Former US President Bill Clinton will arrive to Northern Ireland next month for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, yet one Co Fermanagh building which bears his name remains a reminder of the fragile peace here.
Clinton officially opened the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen in 2002 as a peace centre, at the site of the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing which caused the deaths of 12 people in the town.
While an art gallery, a cafe and a youth hostel operated at the building in the decade afterwards, by 2017 all had shut and left the Clinton Centre idle, with its condition deteriorating.
The building itself is owned by the Fermanagh University Partnership Board, a registered charity whose aims are listed on the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland website as ‘the preservation, protection and improvement of two historic and significant buildings on the site of The Enniskillen Bomb, ensuring they support and host the provision of training, promotion of enterprise and the health and wellbeing of the local, national and international community through a range of organisations and stakeholders.’
The ground on which the building sits is still owned by the local Catholic diocesan trust.
With the building lying dormant for a number of years, new hope for the centre came in 2020 when an organisation known as UISCE (Understanding Ireland Socially, Culturally, and Economically) secured the lease, promising to build a "peacebuilding campus" in line with the centre’s original aims.
However, more than three years later there is little sign of any major progress to the centre, with what used to be the hostel in the upper part of the building currently housing around a dozen overseas "volunteers" who work for UISCE.
The man behind UISCE, Keith McNair, said the goal is to open the building as an international "peacebuilding campus" which he says could be open for public projects in a matter of weeks.
He added: “The top two floors that were the backpackers hostel are now accommodation for UISCE volunteers, we’ve got volunteers, interns and scholars.
“People who come here to research programmes, design programmes and to deliver programmes and also work at getting the building back into shape.
“The ground floor where the art gallery was will be turned into a social hub for secondary school students in the afternoon and then the evening time will be used for music groups.
“The former cafe will initially be used as dining space, we may at some stage in the future possibly reopen the cafe but I’m not too sure about that at present.”
Core to Keith and UISCE’s beliefs about the future of cross-community relations in Northern Ireland is the need to engage with 'all sections of the community', including dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries.
“If you look at Irish history, violence is never far away. At present I am concerned that we are drifting towards violence.," Keith says.
“We need to be creating today the society that we want to live in tomorrow, we have a lot of things that we need to engage with.”
That approach has irked some in the local community, Keith says, and runs alongside an ongoing dispute concerning a memorial erected on the side of the Clinton Centre to commemorate those killed by the blast, which was carried out by the IRA.
A memorial was initially built and installed on a footpath entrance to the Clinton Centre, before an objection from Transport NI led to its removal and it being kept in storage for five years. It was then given a permanent home on the wall of the centre in October 2022.
The Enniskillen Memorial Remembrance Group was established in 2022, comprising members of the families who lost relatives in the 1987 atrocity.
UISCE says the memorial was erected in October by families of those killed in the bomb "without UISCE’s or the property owner’s consent".
“UISCE is clear that, in addition to ERMG’s breach of law, it is UISCE’s right that the presentation of its campus as a place for all people cannot be undermined by any other organisation’s agenda,” the organisation says.
“Therefore, ERMG has been requested to resolve with UISCE that ERMG does not have permission for its memorial structure to be attached to UISCE’s building.”
When contacted by Belfast Live, the Enniskillen Memorial Remembrance Group declined to make any comment on the Clinton Centre or the memorial.
Keith says UISCE and the ongoing maintenance and operation of the Clinton Centre and the nearby Intec Centre is funded by a ‘small group of supporters’.
The lower floor of the Clinton Centre is currently subject to significant water damage, which Keith says is the responsibility of NI Water to fix, something NI Water disputes.
Significant work is still needed to the outside of the building, he adds, something which UISCE is more than happy to accept donations for.
“UISCE is entirely dependent on donations from individuals, we don’t have any big organisation behind us.
“We’re all volunteers here, nobody gets a salary. We all volunteer our time here full-time and volunteers come from all over the world. They give up their time freely.
“If people want to come and help as volunteers, we’d be very interested in talking to them. And if people want to support the work financially or through other resources that would be brilliant.
“The main bulk of our finances come from a small pool of supporters, some people give very generously, some give in smaller amounts.”
Previous to UISCE’s involvement with the Clinton Centre, documents released by Wikileaks showed that President Clinton was told by advisers to pull his name from the building as it "brings little value to your legacy".
Now ahead of Clinton’s latest visit to Northern Ireland, we asked the Clinton Foundation whether the former President was still happy for his name to be associated with the Enniskillen centre – and whether any visit there was planned as part of his trip.
No response has been received from the Clinton Foundation at the time of publication.
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