Peacemaker faces US President one-on-one
A south Armagh man asked George W Bush – one-on-one - not to bomb Iraq when they met at the recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington.
“’A blessing is greater than a bombing,’ are the exact words I used,” said Mr Ian Bothwell of Crossfire Trust, who was receiving the US President’s Prize for reconciliation work in Northern Ireland. He was jointly chosen for the award along with Liam Maskey, brother of Sinn Fein Belfast Mayor, Alex.
“Mr Bush looked at me as though he didn’t quite hear or understand what I said, so I repeated it; ‘A blessing is greater than a bombing.
“He put his arm around my waist and pulled me to his side. He looked me in eye and said ‘I agree, but I don’t want my country to be hit.’ It was a warm gesture, not aggressive, he’s a very approachable man who is very good one-to-one."
“Yes, it was strange to be given a peace prize by Mr Bush just as he was planning to go to war, yet I believe he does understand the value of reconciliation.”
Mr Bothwell said he was not convinced that diplomatic measures against Saddam had been exhausted before military action was begun, “but I do feel we need to have room to give our political leaders some benefit of the doubt - they may know more than they are able to go public with for security reasons.
“It was an informal gathering, with the great and good of Ireland, north and south present. I approached Mr Bush at first and shared a line from the bible to affirm him, it was just the two of standing together; ‘The one who called you is faithful and he will do it,’ I said, meaning God will help and empower him do his job well. He was a little surprised but said ‘thank you for that.’"
“People in Ireland and around the world are praying for you at this important time, I said. ‘There is no greater gift you can give a world leader than the gift of prayer,’ he replied.”
While there was some media debate as to whether Mr Bush and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams would shake hands, Mr Bothwell said Mr Bush shook hands with Mr Adams warmly and enthusiastically when they met.
“I was part of a group of 14 non-political community leaders from Northern Ireland that met Mr Bush formally in the Oval Office a few hours earlier. We were taken up one by one to the president and introduced."
“’What do you do in Northern Ireland,’ he asked me. ‘I make peace,’ I said, looking at the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, ‘between our two countries in South Armagh.’ Mr Ahern explained to Mr Bush the importance of South Armagh and the difficulties experienced in the area in the past thirty years."
“It was a time of great connection with influential people which I hope to deliver on for the people of South Armagh. We need support for people who have suffered in silence and may feel neglected all these years."
“Actually, security was tighter at the airport than the White House, but they were expecting us I suppose."
"Still, there was a feeling of great expectation – the President of the US was taking time out to see us despite being in the centre of world affairs at the minute."
“But while the White House was impressive, it was the passion and warm reception I got at the South African Embassy that caught my attention. That was because we were on the same wavelength with our common passion for forgiveness and reconciliation."
“One guest of the South African Embassy I really clicked with was US Congressmen John Lewis. He is a black man who grew up experiencing the racial injustice of the southern US states and what he said is still ringing in my ears; “We need to find something more than justice. Justice alone will not deliver peace. We have to find a new society of love.”