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Irish Prime Minister Ahern Presents President Clinton with Shamrocks

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

10:45 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Please be seated,everyone. This is a wonderful day for all of us here at the WhiteHouse. It's a great pleasure to welcome the Taoiseach here. BertieAhern has given great leadership to the people of Ireland and to thepeace process. This is his first St. Patrick's Day here sinceassuming office, and we're very grateful for his presence. Wewelcome him.

And I'm going to turn the platform over to you. Thankyou.

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Thank you very much, Presidentand Vice President. It's a great honor for me to be here, my firstopportunity as Taoiseach of the Irish people, to be at the WhiteHouse on St. Patrick's Day. I'm delighted to participate in thiswonderful ceremony and to present to you some shamrocks from the landof your forebears.

The presentation of shamrock to the President of UnitedStates is a very apt symbol of a very close and friendly relationsbetween our two countries. St. Patrick used the shamrock as areligious symbol of unity and diversity, similar to the motto of theUnited States - e pluribus unum. And it remains a potent, unifyingsymbol which is embraced by both traditions on the island of Ireland.

The United States and Ireland are countries which enjoylong-established bonds stemming from our intertwined history. And asyou generously acknowledged, Mr President, Irish Americanshistorically and still today have enriched Americans' way of lifewith the values of their heritage -- love of family, faith, and hardwork, a devotion to community, and compassion for those in need.They are things that we still live dear to. And for its part, theUnited States has been a constant resource of inspiration and supportas Ireland has navigated its sometimes difficult history.

And that solidarity is as vital today as it was duringthe Great Famine, which we've celebrated in the last few years, of1845 to 1848, when the United States gave a new home and a new futureto hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women. And the tiesbetween our two countries, Mr. President, are now, of course,copper-fastened by an extremely vibrant economic relationship. Andthe flows of trade investment and tourism between Ireland and theUnited States have reached unprecedented levels. U.S. investment hasmade a crucial contribution to Ireland's current prosperity. Andequally as a very profitable location for investment, Ireland hascontributed to cooperate and to assist corporate wealth of many greatU.S.companies.

Mr. President, I'm very conscious that the principle ofunity and diversity has been one of the major domestic team of yourpresidency. The leadership that you have provided on this team hasbeen inspiring, not only within the United States, but alsointernationally, where it has an immediate renaissance in places suchas Bosnia, and Middle East and, of course, in Northern Ireland.

And in Northern Ireland, your inspiring vision of peace,based on the acceptance of diversity, has been matched by yourconstant support for a process which has experienced its shares ofups and downs. And you've been true to your promise made here anumber of years ago, that you would be a friend of Ireland not juston St. Patrick's Day, but every day. And your act of support for theprocess has not only been constant, but also impeccably fair andbalanced. And for that I want to thank you.

The encouragement, the access which you and youradministration have provided to all of the participants and that youradministration have provided for all of us has inspired us all ingood days and sustained us on bad ones. And perhaps the greatestresource that you have given us is Senator George Mitchell, who inhis chairmanship of the talks so aptly represents the qualities ofgoodwill, of wisdom, impartiality and tenacity, which the UnitedStates has brought to the Irish peace process.

We're now entering, President, as we've spoken thismorning, a decisive period in the talks. The core issues have beenwell and truly aired over the past months. As George has saidrecently, we are now in the end game; success will require courage, awillingness to compromise and, perhaps above all, a generous visionwhich transcended partnership, focuses on the common interest of allwho are in the talks and all who share it.

Our task will be greatly assisted by the continuedsupport and encouragement which we know that we can count on fromyou, Mr. President, and from Mrs. Clinton, from your administrationand from our friends on both sides of the aisle of Congress.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for everything you'vedone. I want to thank you for all that you've contributed to thecause of peace in Northern Ireland. And in presenting you with theunifying symbol of shamrock, I wish you and your family a very happySt. Patrick's Day. (Speaks in Gaelic.)

(The presentation is made.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Taoiseach, andthank you for the bowl of shamrocks . We will proudlydisplay it as a lasting symbol of our shared values and commonheritage.

I think I should say in the interest of full disclosure,that my Cassidy relatives in Ireland sent me these cufflinks and thistie to wear on this day, so that I would be properly attired for yourvisit. (Laughter.)

Since last St. Patrick's Day, Ireland has chosen notonly a new Prime Minister, but also a new President -- Mary McAleeseof Belfast, the first Northerner to hold that office. We also shareIreland's pride in the fact that President McAleese's predecessor,our good friend, Mary Robinson, now serves as United Nations HumanRights Commissioner.

I also want to acknowledge the announcement by a greatfriend of Ireland and great Ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith, that sheintends to leave Dublin this summer . We thank you foryour dedicated principled service to our country. (Applause.)

Mr. Prime Minister, our cultures have enriched oneanother time and again as impassioned voices called back and forthacross the Atlantic. Just as generations of American writers havebeen inspired by Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, the great Irish musician,Van Morrison, sings of growing up in Belfast, reading Jack Keroacwhile a distant radio signal played Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechetand Hank Williams.

Last year an Irish American, a retired high schoolteacher named Frank McCourt, won our Pulitzer Prize for hisremarkable Angela's Ashes, a memoir of growing up poor in Limerickand New York City in the 1930s and '40s. This writing pulls nopunches -- a fact admirers and critics in both or our countrieshave been quick to note. But his Limerick and his Ireland havechanged. We are delighted that Ireland has enjoyed the best run ofeconomic growth in the developed world during this decade, just asAmerica continues to profit from the labors of your sons anddaughters.

This is a holiday, a day for laughter and celebration.But let me say something about which we are all very serious.Northern Ireland now has an unparalleled opportunity for a just andlasting peace. The Taoiseach and his government and Tony Blair andthe British government have gone the extra mile to create anatmosphere in which negotiations can succeed. George Mitchell hasbeen a very distinguished Chairman of the peace talks, and we thankyou for your comments, Taoiseach.

During these St. Patrick's Day events, I will speak withthe party leaders who have come here to Washington. I will tell allof them on all sides the same thing. I will say it as clearly andemphatically as I possibly can: This is the chance of a lifetime forpeace in Ireland. You must get it done. You must do it foryourselves and your children. It is too late for those who havealready been killed by the sectarian violence of the last threedecades. But you can do it, and you must, now.

To get an agreement there must be compromise. No partycan achieve all its objectives. The party leaders must lead, andleading means looking forward. And it means being strong enough tomake principled compromise. Concessions that today might seem hardto accept will seem so much less important in the light of an accordthat brings hope and peace and an end to violence. No one will bethe loser if agreement is reached. Everyone will benefit from achance to build a peaceful future. The parties must look at thelarger picture, to the ultimate goal -- a Northern Ireland for all,free of cowardly acts of violence, free of the division and despairthat have robbed too many children of their futures for too long.

Mr. Prime Minister, today you ask me to stay personallyinvolved in the peace process. I will do everything I can. TheUnited States will continue to stand firmly against extremists onboth sides who want to use violence to thwart a peaceful, justsolution that the vast majority of the people in Ireland, whom I wasprivileged to see in late 1995, clearly still want.

As they negotiate, the parties, too, must continue todemonstrate by words and deeds that they reject violence. They mustdo everything possible to prevent further bloodshed.

Here on the edge of the 21st century there is a growingglobal community of people committed to peace, to democracy, tosocial justice; to putting the divisions of the past of religion andrace, of ethnicity and tribe, behind them. From Guatemala toMozambique, even now to Bosnia, the unceasing desire of people for apeaceful, decent life is overcoming the forces of hate and bigotryand violence. Ireland, its leaders and its peacekeeping forces havehelped to contribute to the progress of this peace all around theworld. There has not been a day in the last four decades when anIrish peacekeeper has not been somewhere on duty as a sentinel forpeace in a distant part of the world.

Now all the people on the island of Ireland can besentinels for peace, if only their leaders will make the principledagreements necessary to give them that chance.

Again, let me say, the days I spent in Ireland in 1995are perhaps the most memorable days of my life. As we rejoice todayin the spirit of St. Patrick, the heritage of Irish and IrishAmerican people, let us remember what the spirit of St. Patrick was,and how he became the first and only person ever to bringChristianity to a distant, alien place without the sword. And let usbring a future to Ireland worthy of that great achievement of St.Patrick.

Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)

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