Editorial by President Clinton for the Belfast Telegraph (10/20/2000)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                          (Boston, Massachusetts)

For Immediate Release                            October 20, 2000

                         FOR THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH
                             October 19, 2000

                ?Why the Good Friday Agreement is working?

                      By President William J Clinton

IN his first Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln called upon
Americans to heed "the better angels of our nature" to dissuade them from
embarking on a long and bloody civil war.

Just over two years ago, the leaders and people of Northern Ireland
summoned the better angels of their nature to negotiate, sign, and approve
the Good Friday Agreement in a courageous bid to end nearly 30 years of
strife and agony. The Agreement reflected more than the common humanity
that unites the people of Northern Ireland, no matter their faith. It
reflected their self-interest - their heartfelt conviction that the
sacrifices and compromises required for peace would be far easier to bear
than the burden of more violence and bloodshed.

George Mitchell said at the time that, as difficult as the Agreement was to
negotiate, implementing it would prove more difficult still - and he was
right. Two-and-one-half years later, the Agreement is working, but it is
straining under intense criticism. I know that many in the unionist
community feel deeply uncomfortable with changes relating to security and
have concerns that the right to express British identity is being attacked.
Nationalists and republicans have voiced concerns of their own about
prospects for full equality and implementation of all aspects of the

I believe the Good Friday Agreement is fully capable of addressing these
concerns. Now is the time to reaffirm its core principles.

-The principle of consent: no decision on changing the constitutional
connection linking Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom will be made
without support from a majority of Northern Ireland voters. This expresses
respect for British sovereignty in Northern Ireland ? and also for the
legitimate wish of Irish people to pursue a united Ireland.

-Self-government that is democratic, inclusive, and whose participants use
exclusively peaceful means to accomplish their aims. The main institutions
of government, an elected Assembly and a power-sharing Executive, contain
safeguards for protecting minority interests and for excluding those who
use or support violence.

-Strict protection of individual human and civil rights. On October 2,
Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole incorporated the
European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. The Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission is now consulting on a Bill of Rights for Northern

The people of Northern Ireland support these principles. And for all of
their disagreements, so do Northern Ireland's politicians.

The reason, I believe, is simple: Devolved government based on the Stormont
Assembly and Executive is working. Even politicians from parties professing
to be "anti-Agreement" are participating actively, delivering their
constituents democratic and accountable regional government. For the first
time in 30 years, Northern Ireland's politicians are producing their own
budget and Programme for Government.

This means that problems in the areas of agriculture, health, the
environment and education, to name a few, are now the responsibility of
local ministers who must answer to local voters. Some may be uncomfortable
with power-sharing, but most agree that it is better than being powerless.
And foreign investors are taking note of the prospects opened up by these
developments - for example, the 900-job call centre that a Denver-based
company recently announced will open in north Belfast.

What's more, the Agreement has enabled government ministers from Northern
Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to work together to benefit people
throughout the island, by developing co-operation in such areas as trade,
food safety and EU programmes. Sessions of the North-South Ministerial
Council focus on concrete results rather than constitutional debate.

Change this profound is never easy. I applaud the people of Northern
Ireland for working to set aside old animosities and to accept even the
most difficult elements of the Good Friday Agreement, such as prisoner
releases. Yet tough challenges remain, such as adapting the police force in
Northern Ireland to earn the confidence and support of all the people, and
resolving the issue of paramilitary weapons.

The Agreement offers a chance for a fresh start on policing. It established
an independent commission chaired by Chris Patten with a mandate to make
recommendations in this highly sensitive area. Some of the Patten Report's
proposed changes have distressed those who honour the many sacrifices made
by police officers in Northern Ireland.

I urge everyone to reflect on Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan's statement
that the police stand ready for the challenges proposed by Patten and that
it is his "fervent hope that those in all our communities whom we exist to
serve stand similarly ready for change."Everyone in Northern Ireland,
including the police, deserve the chance to prove themselves anew under the
Agreement. That said, for police reform to work, the entire community must
take ownership of the process, taking not just the pain of the past, but
more importantly the demands of the future, into account. The opportunity
to achieve a police service that is broadly acceptable and fully
accountable is too important and too close at hand to be lost to political

On the question of paramilitary organisations, the Good Friday Agreement is
both clear and unequivocal - in it, all parties commit themselves to the
total disarmament of all such groups. The IRA's decision to allow
independent inspectors to view arms dumps last June and to verify that the
weapons are not moved or used represented unprecedented progress. The IRA
also committed itself to resume contacts with the Independent International
Commission on Decommissioning and to put weapons "completely and verifiably
beyond use" in the context of full implementation of the Agreement.

Republican leaders say these commitments will be met. I welcome that, and
look forward to further, timely progress in this vital area. I urge
loyalist paramilitaries to make similar undertakings, even as courageous
political leaders work to bring an end to the dangerous feuding under way
in that community. All sides must work together to renew momentum toward
the goal spelled out in the Agreement: total decommissioning of all
paramilitary weapons.

But perhaps harder still will be what George Mitchell called the
"decommissioning of mind-sets". The confidence that is the foundation of
peace is all too easily eroded by distrust, defensiveness, and fear. It is
almost always easier to fall back on old habits than it is to fulfil new

In making decisions that will determine Northern Ireland's future,
political leaders must pause and consider whether their actions will
advance the cause of durable peace and genuine reconciliation. Every
political leader is subject to short-term political pressures. But in
Northern Ireland, I believe it is critical for all to consider how their
actions in the heat of the moment today will be felt a year, a decade, a
generation from now. It is human nature to take the good for granted and to
focus on our frustrations, giving in to those frustrations would be a
tragic mistake, with terrible consequences.

On my last visit to Northern Ireland in 1998, I met with the families of
the victims and the survivors of the Omagh bombing. That visit was a vivid
reminder of the alternative to peace ? and it made clear the determination
of the people of Northern Ireland to overcome the sorrow and bitterness of
the last 30 years and build a better future.

During the recently completed inquest into the Omagh bombing, that
determination to build was still on display - as was the profound
frustration that the dissidents responsible for the attack have not been
brought to justice.

For a durable peace to be achieved, both of these emotions must be
harnessed effectively. And there should be no mistake about it: US law
enforcement will aggressively target any effort from whatever quarter to
undermine the peace process through illegal activities from the United

The Good Friday Agreement represents the very best hope for lasting peace
in Northern Ireland. Fully implementing, it will make Northern Ireland a
beacon of hope for those who struggle for reconciliation and peace in every
corner of the world - from the Balkans to the Middle East.

I hope to be able to visit Northern Ireland soon, and to confirm that the
will of the people is being heeded.

                                   # # #

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