President Clinton Addresses The Northern Ireland Assembly

Office of the Press Secretary
(Belfast, Northern Ireland)

For Immediate Release September 3, 1998


The Waterfront Hall
Laganside, Belfast, Northern Ireland

12:40 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Lord Mayor Alderdice, FirstMinister Trimble, Deputy First Minister Mallon, Mr. Prime Minister; to themembers of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the citizens of Belfast andNorthernIreland, it is an honor for me to be back here with the First Lady, ourdelegation including two members of our Cabinet, distinguished members ofCongress, our Ambassador and Consul General, and, of course, the bestinvestment we ever made in Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell. (Applause.)

I want to begin very briefly by thanking Prime MinisterBlairand echoing his comments about the thoughts and prayers we have with thepassengers and families of the Swiss Air flight that crashed this morningnearNova Scotia, Canada. The flight was en route to Geneva from New York, andasI speak, Canadians are conducting an extensive search operation. We hopeforthe best and we are deeply grieved that this has occurred.

I would like to also begin just by simply saying thank youtothe leaders who have spoken before me -- to David Trimble and Seamus Mallon

to the party leaders and the other members of the Assembly whom I metearliertoday; to Tony Blair, and in his absence, to Prime Minster Ahern; and totheirpredecessors with whom I have worked -- Prime Ministers Bruton and Reynoldsand Major.

This has been a magic thing to see unfold -- thisdevelopingwill for peace among the people of Northern Ireland. Three years ago, whenHillary and I were here, I could see it in the eyes of the people inBelfastand Derry. We saw, as Seamus Mallon said, the morning light began to dawnafter Ireland's longdarkness on Good Friday with the leaders' commitment to solveyour problems with words, not weapons. It lit the whole sky amonth later when you voted so overwhelmingly for the peaceagreement. Now this Assembly is the living embodiment of thepromise of that covenant.

Together, people and leaders are moving NorthernIreland from the deep freeze of despair to the warm sunlight ofpeace. For 30 long years the Troubles took a terrible toll; toomany died, too many families grieved, every family was denied thequiet blessings of a normal life -- in the constant fear that asimple trip to the store could be devastated by bombs andbullets; in the daily disruptions of roadblocks and searches; inthe ominous presence of armed soldiers always on patrol; inneighborhoods demarcated by barbed wire, guarded gates, and20-foot fences.

No wonder this question was painted on a Belfastwall: Is there life before death? Now at last, your answer is,yes.

From here on, the destiny of Northern Ireland is inthe hands of its people and its representatives. From farming tofinance, education to health care, this new Assembly has theopportunity and the obligation to forge the future. The newstructures of cooperation you have approved can strengthen thequality of your ties to both London and Dublin, based on thebenefits of interdependence, not the burdens of division ordominance. In peace you can find new prosperity, and I heardyour leaders seeking it.

Since the 1994 cease-fire, the number of passengerscoming to and from your international airport and ferry port hasincreased more than 15 percent. The number of hotel rooms underconstruction has doubled. And in the wake of the Good Fridayagreement, you are projected to receive record levels ofinvestment, foreign and domestic, bringing new jobs, opportunity,and hope.

The United States has supported your quest forpeace, starting with Irish Americans, whose commitment to thiscause is passionate, profound, and enduring. It has been one ofthe great privileges of my presidency to work with thepeacemakers, Protestant and Catholic leaders here in the North --Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern. Our Congress, asyou can see if you had visited with our delegation, has reachedacross its own partisan divide for the sake of peace in NorthernIreland. I hope some of it will infect their consciousness asthey go back home. (Laughter.)

They -- extraordinary support for the InternationalFund for Ireland, the $100 million over the past five years. Iam delighted that there are both Republican and Democraticmembers with me today, as well as Jim Lyons, my special advisorfor economic initiatives in Northern Ireland, and SenatorMitchell, whom you welcomed so warmly and justly a few momentsago.

In the months and years ahead, America will continueto walk the road of renewal with you. We will help to train yourAssembly members, support NGOs that are building civil societiesfrom the grass roots, invest in our common future througheducation, promote cross-border and cross-communityunderstanding, create with you microcredit facilities to helpsmall businesses get off the ground, support the trade andinvestment that will benefit both our people.

I thank the Secretary of Education for being with ustoday, and the Secretary of Commerce who led a trade mission herein June, already showing results. Chancellor Brown takes thenext important step with his mission to 10 American cities nextmonth. As you work to change the face and future of NorthernIreland, you can count on America.

Of course, for all we can and will do, the futurestill is up to you. You have agreed to bury the violence of thepast; now you have to build a peaceful and prosperous future. Tothe members of the Assembly, you owe it to your country tonurture the best in your people by showing them the best inyourselves. Difficult, sometimes wrenching decisions lie ahead,but they must be made. And because you have agreed to shareresponsibilities, whenever possible you must try to act inconcert, not conflict; to overcome obstacles, not create them; torise above petty disputes, not fuel them.

The Latin word for assembly, "concilium," is theroot of the word, "reconciliation." The spirit of reconciliationmust be rooted in all you do.

There is another quality you will need, too. Ouronly Irish Catholic President, John Kennedy, loved to quote acertain British Protestant Prime Minister. "Courage," WinstonChurchill said, "is rightly esteemed as the first of allqualities because it is the quality that guarantees all theothers."

Courage and reconciliation were the heart of yourcommitment to peace. Now, as you go forward, courage andreconciliation must drive this Assembly in very specific ways:to decommission the weapons of war that are obsolete in NorthernIreland at peace; to move forward with the formation of anexecutive council; to adapt your police force so that it earnsthe confidence, respect and support of all the people; to endstreet justice, because defining crime, applying punishment andenforcing the law must be left to the people's electedrepresentatives, the courts and the police; to pursue earlyrelease for prisoners whose organizations have truly abandonedviolence, and to help them find a productive, constructive placein society; to build a more just society where human rights arebirthrights and where every citizen receives equal protection andequal treatment under the law. These must be the benchmarks ofthe new Northern Ireland.

I must say, the words and the actions of yourleaders this week, and their willingness to meet are hopefulreflections of the spirit of courage and reconciliation that mustembrace all the citizens. Also hopeful are the activities of thecommunity leaders here today, the non-governmental organizations,those in business, law and academia. And especially I salute thewomen who have been such a powerful force for peace. Hillary hada wonderful day yesterday at your Vital Voices conference. Andas she said, we are pledged to follow up on the partnershipsestablished there.

All your voices are vital. The example you setamong your neighbors, the work you do in your communities, thestandards you demand from your elected officials -- all thesewill have a very, very large impact on your future. And to thepeople of Northern Ireland I say it is your will for peace, afterall, that has brought your country to this moment of hope. Donot let it slip away. It will not come again in our lifetime.Give your leaders the support they need to make the hard, butnecessary decisions. With apologies to Mr. Yeats, help them toprove that things can come together, that the center can hold.

You voted for a future different from the past. Nowyou must prove that the passion for reason and moderation cantrump the power of extremes. There will be hard roads ahead.The terror in Omagh was not the last bomb of the Troubles; it wasthe opening shot of a vicious attack on the peace. The questionis not whether there will be more bombs and more attempts to undowith violence the verdict of the ballot box. There well may be.The question is not whether tempers will flare and debates willbe divisive. They certainly will be. The question is: How willyou react to it all -- to the violence? How will you deal withyour differences? Can the bad habits and brute forces ofyesterday break your will for tomorrow's peace? That is thequestion.

In our so-called modern world, from Bosnia to theMiddle East, from Rwanda to Kosovo, from the Indian subcontinentto the Aegean, people still hate each other over theirdifferences of race, tribe, and religion, in a fruitless struggleto find meaning in life in who we are not, rather than asking Godto help us become what we ought to be. From here on in NorthernIreland, you have said only one dividing line matters -- the linebetween those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it,between those energized by hope and those paralyzed by hatred,between those who choose to build up and those who want to keepon tearing down.

So much more unites you than divides you -- thevalues of faith and family, work and community, the same land andheritage, the same love of laughter and language. You aspire tothe same things -- to live in peace and security, to provide foryour loved ones, to build a better life and pass on brighterpossibilities to your children. These are not Catholic orProtestant dreams, these are human dreams, to be realized besttogether.

The American people, as the Lord Mayor noted, knowfrom our own experience about bigotry and violence rooted in raceand religion. Still today, we struggle with the challenge ofbuilding one nation out of our increasing diversity. But it isworth the effort. We know we are wiser, stronger, and happierwhen we stand on common ground. And we know you will be, too.

And so, members of the Assembly, citizens ofBelfast, people of Northern Ireland, remember that in the earlydays of the American republic, the Gaelic term for America was"Inis Fa'il" island of destiny. Today, Americans see you asInis Fa'il, and your destiny is peace. America is with you. Theentire world is with you. May God be with you and give youstrength for the good work ahead.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

What's New - September 1998

1998 Hispanic Heritage Month

The People Of Limerick

National School Modernization Day

Hillcrest Elementary School Remarks

Family Incomes Are Up, Poverty is Down

Presidential Mentoring Awards

Remarks to Students, Teachers and Tutors

Press Briefing

Presidential Welcome

Religious Leaders Breakfast

First Budget Surplus in a Generation

The Council On Foreign Relations

Gateway 2000 Facility Remarks

The Congressional Gold Medal To South African President Nelson Mandela

Moscow State University Address

Welcomes President Vaclav Havel

Joint Press Conference

President Yeltsin

Patients' Bill Of Rights

The Northern Ireland Assembly

President's Advisory Board On Race

Remarks In Dublin, Ireland

Opening Session Of The United Nations General Assembly

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi

African American Religious Leaders Reception

The National Farmers Union

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E