Miriam meets... Liz O'Donnell and Professor Monica McWilliams
It's fifteen years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and so, this week, Miriam O'Callaghan meets Liz O'Donnell and Monica Mc Williams. Liz is a former Junior Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs here in Dublin while Monica led the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition delegation at the talks.
They describe the tension in the run up to the signing of the Agreement in 1998, they describe coming home afterwards and the exhaustion they experienced. They recall the final hours of the negotiations; the particular problems that the women faced in the negotiating room; the roles of David Irvine; Mo Mowlam and George Mitchell in securing the final deal. Monica describes speaking at David Irvine's funeral as the saddest day of her life.
It is unlikely they would have met if it were not for the negotiations for the Agreement. Liz is the daughter of a Guinness employee from Dublin who relocated to Limerick when she was nine. She recalls growing up in a sporting family as her father had been a successful athlete in his youth and continued to be interest in organising and coaching sports.
Monica grew up in Killree in County Derry. She recalls the memory of being a Catholic when the social and educational life of children was organised along religious lines. She explains that Charlie Haughey was one of her ninety six first cousins, a fact that was used against her in the peace talks.
Both women left Ireland in the 1970s. Liz went to London where she discovered soul music and disco dancing, but eventually she returned to study Law at Trinity College - a move that shaped her life. Monica went to America on a scholarship to study at the University of Michigan. But watching the unfolding Troubles in the North, she decided to come home.
Liz got involved in politics through the Mary Robinson election campaign and the Women's Political Association. A chance meeting with Mary Harney lead to her involvement in the Progressive Democrats. She had a successful career over a seventeen year period. Monica got involved in politics specifically to organise women to be at the peace talks that lead to the Good Friday Agreement.
While both recall the high points of the negotiations leading to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, both reflect on the killing of three small boys in Ballymoney in 1998 and the Omagh bombing as being amongst the very dark moments of that year.
They chose Van Morrison Days Like This; Peter, Paul and Mary Leaving on a Jet Plane; Juliet Turner Broken Things