Old Persean gives fascinating insight into Northern Ireland peace process

Sir Quentin Thomas (1962) returned to The Perse to give an enlightening 42 lecture about his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Having been a civil servant since leaving Cambridge University, Sir Quentin joined the Northern Ireland Office in 1988.

As Political Director, he went on to play a key role in 1998’s Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to three decades of the violence associated with the Troubles – the conflict involving Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups and the British security forces.

When Sir Quentin took on his post, he explained “hardly anyone was talking to anyone else” and there was still much scepticism after Peter Brooke announced he wanted to get all relevant parties around the table on becoming Northern Ireland Secretary in 1989.

However, after procedural talks in the early 1990s, Sir Quentin outlined that a framework could be set for what a peace settlement might look like.

He led the team which met Sinn Fein following the 1994 ceasefire, as well as the team supporting UK government ministers in the roundtable talks, chaired by US Senator George Mitchell, from 1996 onwards which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement.

Sir Quentin, who received his knighthood for services to peace in Northern Ireland, told students: “One of the things about this problem was it was a big issue that had been around for a long time.

“There was a genuine cynicism and lack of expectation, which was quite good in a way because no-one expected you to get anywhere, but as a matter of professional commitment we remained optimistic and we never acknowledged the process had come to an end.”

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