[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 3, 1998]
[Pages 1513-1516]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast
September 3, 1998

    Thank you. Lord Mayor Alderdice, First Minister Trimble, Deputy 
First Minister Mallon, Mr. Prime Minister; to the members of the 
Northern Ireland Assembly, the citizens of Belfast and Northern Ireland, 
it is an honor 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 the thoughts and prayers we have with the 
passengers and families of the Swissair flight that crashed this morning 
near Nova Scotia, Canada. The flight was en route to Geneva from New 
York, and as I speak, Canadians are conducting an extensive search 
operation. We hope for the best, and we are deeply grieved that this has 
    I would like to also begin just 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 whom I met 
earlier today; to Tony Blair and, in his absence, to Prime Minister 
Ahern; and to their predecessors with whom I have worked, Prime 
Ministers Bruton and Reynolds and Major.
    This has been a magic thing to see unfold, this developing will for 
peace among the people of Northern Ireland. Three years ago, when 
Hillary and I were here, I could see it in the eyes of the people in 
Belfast and Derry. We saw, as Seamus Mallon said, the morning light 
begin to 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, 
in the constant fear that a simple trip

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to the store could be devastated by bombs and bullets, in the daily 
disruptions of roadblocks and searches, in the ominous presence of armed 
soldiers always on patrol, in neighborhoods 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 interdependence, not the burdens of division or 
dominance. In peace you can find new prosperity, and I heard your 
leaders seeking it.
    Since the 1994 cease-fire, the number of passengers coming to and 
from your international airport and ferryport has increased more than 15 
percent. 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 our 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. [Laughter]
    They have voted extraordinary support for the International Fund for 
Ireland, the $100 million over the past 5 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 NGO's that are building civil societies from the grassroots, 
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 
esteemed as the first of all human 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 
organizations have truly abandoned violence and to help them find

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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 
nongovernmental organizations, those in business, law, and academia. 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 established there.
    All your voices are vital. The example you set among your neighbors, 
the work you do in your communities, the standards you demand from your 
elected 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 center 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 
extremes. 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 with violence the verdict of the ballot 
box. There well may be. The question is not whether tempers will flare 
and debates will be divisive. 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 energized by hope and those paralyzed 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 realized 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, too.
    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 Fa'il, Island of Destiny. 
Today, Americans see you as Inis Fa'il, 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.

Note: The President spoke at 12:40 p.m. in the main auditorium at 
Waterfront Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Lord Mayor David 
Alderdice of Belfast; First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First 
Minister Seamus Mallon of the Northern Ireland Assembly; Prime Minister 
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister John Major, and Chancellor of the 
Exchequer Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom; Philip Lader, U.S. 
Ambassador to the United Kingdom; Ki Fort, U.S. Consul General, Belfast; 
former Senator George J. Mitchell, independent chairman of the 
multiparty talks in Northern Ireland; and Prime Minister

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Bertie Ahern and former Prime Ministers John Bruton and Albert Reynolds 
of Ireland.