Remarks on the visit of President Clinton - The Odyssey Centre, December 13th, 2000

Mr President, First Lady, Prime Minister, distinguished guests,

Mr President, your reception here today shows how deeply we appreciate your concern and interest.

Since your last visit, we have made much progress. At Stormont we have prepared our Programme for Government. For the first time in our history, public policy has been set down by Ulster men and women from across the religious divide, from our main political traditions, and from all the major parties, Ulster Unionist, SDLP, Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein.

In the Executive and in the Assembly we can see that working together can foster a sense of common purpose – from job creation to improving standards of healthcare, from dealing with the problems of agriculture to improving the research capacity of our universities. For the first time, we are making Northern Ireland work in a shared, consensual way.

Mr President, as one of your predecessors rightly said,

“This land of ours cannot be a good place for any of us to live in unless it is a good place for all of us to live in.”

Our goal remains a Northern Ireland at ease with itself, where everyone feels at home. Sadly there are segments of society that are not yet fully participating in the building of that shared home. I hope they will gain enough confidence in themselves to accept the democratic verdict and join in giving collective leadership to all of our society.

On your last visit, I said that Northern Ireland was back in business. And it is. US trade and investment is playing a crucial role in underpinning progress.

But the ties between our two countries are more that just economic. We share ideals of peace freedom and democracy. We have a shared experience in the defence of democracy. We are proud that in the Second World War the first GI to set foot in Europe did so in Belfast and that tens of thousands of US servicemen were stationed here.

Fascism was the antithesis of democracy. So is terrorism. It violates the very values that led the United States and the United Kingdom to fight side by side in the 1940s and to remain allied since. Many wondered if those dark days would ever end. In our own time many wondered if the troubles would ever end. But I believe that we are coming through. We are making Northern Ireland anew.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without strong communities founded on Christian values. And none of this would have been possible without the service and sacrifice of the security forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

History dealt Northern Ireland a difficult hand of cards. We inherited a conflict. But nearly three years ago the people of Northern Ireland voted for a fair, but complex settlement.

Mr President, you encapsulated it in these words,

“They agreed to the principle of consent, majority rule, minority rights, shared decision making and ties to their neighbours”

We are honoured that you have recommended these principles to other divided societies. Making the Agreement work has been tough. Because it accurately reflects the complex and sometimes divergent interests of our society, there will inevitably be moments of stress and disagreement. But the Agreement protects everyone’s interests. I am confident that support for the vision we set out in 1998 remains strong.

Mr President, your visit to the bereaved of Omagh was much appreciated. We all recall the anguish of those families. We must ensure that misery is never repeated. As you said in Dundalk last night we each have to play our part in making sure that there are no more Omaghs.

There cannot be a moral vacuum at the heart of the peace process. There must be real peace. Our uniquely inclusive arrangements contain no ambiguity on these principles. Justification lies in there being a transition from a violent past to a peaceful, democratic future. That is why I stand firm on the need for decommissioning. That is why on your last visit, I said,

“to those who are crossing the bridge from terrorism to democracy – every move you make towards peace, I welcome. Every pledge you make to peace, I will hold you to.” Today, we continue to watch, and wait, and hold to those promises.

But, I do not intend to let the ship of peace sink on the rocks of old habits and hard grudges. We are learning to define ourselves by what we are for, not what we are against. I am working – we are working – for a united Northern Ireland. Again and again we repeat to those who use violence,

“You are the past, your day is over.”

Mr President, those words of yours in 1995 marked for many a turning point. Since then there have been ups and downs. But we should sometimes step back and see how much has been achieved.

There is much more to be done. We have uniquely talented and enthusiastic young people; a government committed to enterprise, skills and qualities second to none. We know that we here in Northern Ireland now hold our future in our own hands. We know that it can be a great future, and we are determined to make the best of it.

Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce – not, I’m sure, for the last time – an old friend - the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.

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