Former prime minister Sir John Major has expressed delight after being awarded an honorary degree for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.
Sir John received the Doctor of Laws honour from Queen’s University Belfast for his public service and initiation of the peace process at a special event at the Palace of Westminster on Friday evening.
Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern, a signatory to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, hailed Sir John as a founder of the peace process as he delivered the citation at the event.
Sir John and former taoiseach Albert Reynolds were praised for the breakthrough in Anglo-Irish relations that took place during their premierships, with the Downing Street Declaration hailed as one of the early steps on the path.
The work was continued after the Conservatives lost the 1997 general election by incoming prime minister Tony Blair, along with Mr Ahern, and culminated in the historic accord in 1998.
Mr Ahern told attendees Sir John can “truly be called one of the founders of the peace process”.
“It is my great honour to deliver the citation for Sir John as he receives an honorary degree from Queen’s University today at Westminster Palace,” he said.
“As prime minister, he made the pursuit of peace a priority and he can truly be called one of the founders of the peace process.
“Sir John led the foundations for the historic agreement in 1998 and I am delighted that, 25 years later, we are here today to recognise his continued contribution to peace.”
Sir John said he was “deeply grateful” for “this prestigious honour”.
“I am delighted that, in the 25 years since the peace process concluded with the Good Friday Agreement, life in Northern Ireland has been transformed – as have relationships between the north and south of the island of Ireland, and the British and Irish governments,” he said.
“So much has already been achieved and, by continuing to work together, we can look forward to a much brighter and more prosperous future for the people of Ireland.”
Queen’s University president and vice-chancellor Professor Sir Ian Greer said it was fitting to honour Sir John in the 25th anniversary year of the 1998 agreement.
“This recognises the significant contribution and impact that Sir John has made not just in Northern Ireland, but right across society through his public service,” he said.
“We are delighted that he has accepted this honorary degree and has become part of the Queen’s community.”
More than 90 Queen’s alumni were also in attendance as part of the centenary dinner of the Queen’s University Association London.