Bill Clinton's keynote address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998
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Bill Clinton, President of the USA,
keynote address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
First Minister Trimble, Deputy First
Minister Mallon, Mr prime minister, to the members of the Northern
Ireland Assembly, citizens of Belfast and Northern Ireland. It
is an honour for me to be back here with the first lady, our delegation
including two members of our cabinet, distinguished members of
congress, our ambassador and consul general and of course the
best investment we ever made in Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell.
I want to begin very briefly by thanking
Prime Minister Blair and echoing his comments about thoughts and
prayers we have had with the passengers and families of the Swiss
Air flight that crashed near Nova Scotia, Canada. The flight was
en route to Geneva from New York and as I speak the Canadians
are conducting a search operation and we are hoping for the best
we are deeply grieved that this has occurred.
I would like also to begin by simply
saying thank you to the leaders who have spoken before me
to David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, to the party leaders and the
other members of the assembly who I met earlier today, to Tony
Blair and in his absence to Bertie Ahern and to their predecessors
with whom I have worked, prime ministers Bruton, Reynolds and
Major. This has been a magic thing to see unfold this developing
will for peace among the people of Northern Ireland.
We saw, as Seamus Mallon said, the morning
light begins at dawn after Ireland's long darkness on Good Friday,
with the leaders commitment to solve your problems with words,
not weapons. It lit the whole sky a month later when you voted
so overwhelmingly for the peace agreement. Now this assembly is
the living embodiment of the promise of that covenant. Together
people and leaders are moving Northern Ireland from the deep freeze
of despair to the warm sunlight of peace.
For 30 long years the troubles took
a terrible toll, too many died, too many families grieved, every
family was denied the quiet blessings of a normal life and the
constant fear that a simple trip to the store could be devastated
by bombs and bullets, in the daily disruptions of road blocks
and searches, in the ominous presence of armed soldiers always
on patrol in neighbourhoods demarcated by barbed-wire, guarded
gates and 20 foot fences. No wonder this question was painted
on a Belfast wall "Is there life before death?" Now
at last your answer is "yes".
From here on the destiny of Northern
Ireland is in the hands of its people and its representatives,
from farming to finance, education to health care, this new assembly
has the opportunity and the obligation to forge the future. The
new structures of cooperation you have approved can strengthen
the quality of your ties to both London and Dublin, based on the
benefits of inter-dependence, not the burdens of division or dominance.
In peace you can find new prosperity and I heard your leaders
Since the 1994 ceasefire the number
of passengers coming too and from your international airport and
ferry port has increased more than 15 per cent. The number of
hotel rooms under construction has doubled and in the wake of
the Good Friday agreement you are projected to receive record
levels of investment, foreign and domestic, bringing new jobs,
opportunity, and hope.
The United States has supported your
quest for peace, starting with Irish Americans, whose commitment
to this cause is passionate, profound, and enduring. It has been
one of the great privileges of my presidency to work with the
peacemakers, Protestant and Catholic leaders here in the north
Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern. Our Congress,
as you can see if you had visited with our delegation, has reached
across its own partisan divide for the sake of peace in Northern
Ireland. I hope some of it will infect their consciousness as
they go back home.
They have provided extraordinary support
for the international Fund for Ireland, the $100 million over
the past five years. I am delighted that there are both Republican
and Democratic members with me today, as well as Jim Lyons, my
special adviser for economic initiatives in Northern Ireland,
and Senator Mitchell, whom you welcomed so warmly and justly a
few moments ago. In the months and years ahead, America will continue
to walk the road of renewal with you. We will help to train your
assembly members, support those that are building civil societies
from the grass roots, invest in our common future through education,
promote cross-border and cross-community understanding, create
with you microcredit facilities to help small businesses get off
the ground, support the trade and investment that will benefit
both our people.
I thank the secretary of education for
being with us today, and the secretary of commerce who led a trade
mission here in June, already showing results. Chancellor Brown
takes the next important step with his mission to 10 American
cities next month. As you work to change the face and future of
Northern Ireland, you can count on America.
Of course, for all we can and will do,
the future still is up to you. You have agreed to bury the violence
of the past; now you have to build a peaceful and prosperous future.
To the members of the assembly, you owe it to your country to
nurture the best in your people by showing them the best in yourselves.
Difficult, sometimes wrenching decisions lie ahead, but they must
be made. And because you have agreed to share responsibilities,
whenever possible you must try to act in concert, not conflict,
to overcome obstacles, not create them; to rise above petty disputes,
not fuel them.
The Latin word for assembly "concilium"
is the root of the word "reconciliation". The spirit
of reconciliation must be rooted in all you do.
There is another quality you will need,
too. Our only Irish Catholic president, John Kennedy, loved to
quote a certain British Protestant prime minister. "Courage,"
Winston Churchill said, "is rightly at the first of all qualities
because it is the quality that guarantees all the others".
Courage and reconciliation were the
heart of your commitment to peace. Now, as you go forward, courage
and reconciliation must drive this assembly in very specific ways:
to decommission the weapons of war that are obsolete in Northern
Ireland at peace; to move forward with the formation of an executive
council; to adapt your police force so that it earns the confidence,
respect and support of all the people; to end street justice,
because defining crime, applying punishment and enforcing the
law must be left to the people's elected representatives, the
courts and the police; to pursue early release for prisoners whose
organisations have truly abandoned violence, and to help them
find a productive, constructive place in society; to build a more
just society where human rights are birthrights and where every
citizen receives equal protection and equal treatment under the
law. These must be the benchmarks of the new Northern Ireland.
I must say, the words and the actions
of your leaders this week, and their willingness to meet are hopeful
reflections of the spirit of courage and reconciliation that must
embrace all the citizens. Also hopeful are the activities of the
community leaders here today, the non-governmental organisations,
those in business, law and academics. And especially I salute
the women who have been such a powerful force for peace. Hillary
had a wonderful day yesterday at your Vital Voices conference.
And as she said, we are pledged to follow up on the partnerships
All your voices are vital. The example
you set among your neighbours, the work you do in your communities,
the standards you demand from your selected officials all
these will have a very, very large impact on your future. And
to the people of Northern Ireland I say it is your will for peace,
after all, that has brought your country to this moment of hope.
Do not let it slip away. It will not come again in our lifetime.
Give your leaders the support they need to make the hard, but
necessary decisions. With apologies to Mr Yeats, help them to
prove that things can come together, that the centre can hold.
You voted for a future different from
the past. Now you must prove that the passion for reason and moderation
can trump the power of.... There will be hard roads ahead. The
terror in Omagh was not the last bomb of the troubles; it was
the opening shot of a vicious attack on the peace. The question
is not whether there will be more bombs and more attempts to undo
the violence the... of the ballet box. There well may be. The
question is not whether tempers will flare and debates will be
decisive. They certainly will be. The question is: How will you
react to it all to the violence? How will you deal with
your differences? Can the bad habits and brute forces of yesterday
break your will for tomorrow's peace? That is the question. In
our so-called modern world, from Bosnia to the Middle East, from
Rwanda to Kosovo, from the Indian subcontinent to the Aegean,
people still hate each other over their differences of race, tribe
and religion, in a fruitless struggle to find meaning in life
in who we are not, rather than asking God to help us become what
we ought to be. From here on in Northern Ireland, you have said
only one dividing line matters the line between those who
embrace peace and those who would destroy it, between those energised
by hope and those paralysed by hatred, between those who choose
to build up and those who want to keep on tearing down.
So much more unites you than divides
you the values of faith and family, work and community,
the same land and heritage, the same love of laughter and language.
You aspire to the same things to live in peace and security,
to provide for your loved ones, to build a better life and pass
on brighter possibilities to your children. These are not Catholic
or Protestant dreams, these are human dreams, to be realised best
The American people, as the Lord Mayor
noted, know from our own experience about bigotry and violence
rooted in race and religion. Still today, we struggle with the
challenge of building one nation out of our increasing diversity.
But it is worth the effort. We know we are wiser, stronger, and
happier when we stand on common ground. And we know you will be
And so, members of the assembly, citizens
of Belfast, people of Northern Ireland, remember that in the early
days of the American republic, the Gaelic term for America was
"Inis Fail" island of destiny. Today, Americans see
you as Inis Fail, and your destiny is peace. America is with you.
The entire world is with you. May God be with you and give you
strength for the good work ahead.
Thank you very much.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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