Speech by President, USA During Inauguration of Thomas (Tip) O'Neill Chair
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~ THE WHITE HOUSE ~
Mayor and Mrs. Kerr, Sir Patrick and Mrs. Mayhew, Mr. and Mrs. Hume; to the community and religious leaders who are here and to my fellow Americans who are here, Congressman Walsh and the congressional delegation; Senator Dodd, Senator Mack and others. Let me thank you all for the wonderful reception you have given to Hillary and to me today and, through us, to the people of the United States. And let me thank Tom O'Neill for his incredibly generous remarks. I am honored to be here with him and with his family and with Loretta Brennan Glucksman and the other members of the American Ireland Fund to help inaugurate this Tip O'Neill Chair in Peace Studies.
And thank you, Vice Chancellor Smith, for the degree. You know, I wonder how far it is from a degree to a professorship. (Laughter.) See, I have this job without a lot of tenure, and I'm looking for one with more tenure. (Applause.)
Tip O'Neill was a model for many people he never knew. The model of public service. He proved that a person could be a national leader without losing the common touch, without ever forgetting that all these high-flown speeches we give and all these complex issues we talk about in the end have a real, tangible impact on the lives of ordinary people. And that in any free land, in the end all that really counts are the lives of ordinary people.
He said he was a man of the House, but he was far more. He was fundamentally a man of the people. A bricklayer's son who became the most powerful person in Congress and our nation's most prominent, most loyal champion of ordinary working families.
He loved politics because he loved people, but also because he knew it could make a difference in people's lives. And you have proved here that political decisions by brave people can make a difference in people's lives. Along with Senators Kennedy and Moynihan and former Governor Hugh Carey of New York, he was among the first Irish American politicians to oppose violence in Northern Ireland. And though we miss him sorely, he will long be remembered in the United States and now in Ireland with this O'Neill Chair. It is a fitting tribute to his life and legacy, for he knew that peace had to be nurtured by a deeper understanding among people and greater opportunity for all.
Tip O'Neill was old enough to remember a time when Irish Catholics were actually discriminated against in the United States, and he had the last laugh when they wound up running the place. (Laughter.) In my lifetime -- (applause) -- I was just thinking that in my conscious political lifetime we've had three Irish Speakers of the House of Representatives: John McCormick and Tip O'Neill of Boston and Tom Foley of Washington State; and, goodness knows how many more we're destined to have.
I am very proud to be here to inaugurate this chair in peace studies. I have been privileged to come here at an important time in your history. I have been privileged to be President at an important time in your history and to do what I could on behalf of the United States to help the peace process go forward.
But the work of peace is really the work of a lifetime. First, you have to put the violence behind you; you have done that. Then, you have to make an agreement that recognizes the differences and the commonalities among you. And this twin-tracks process, I believe is a way at least to begin that process where everyone can be heard.
Then, you have to change the spirit of the people until it is normal as getting up in the morning and having breakfast, to feel a real affinity for the people who share this land with you without regard to their religion or their politics.
This chair of peace studies can help you to do that. It can be symbol of the lifetime work of building a peaceful spirit and heart in every citizen of this land.
Our administration has been a strong supporter of the International Fund for Ireland. We will continue to do so because of projects like this one and because of the work still to be done. We were eager to sponsor the conference we had last May, aided by the diligent efforts of our friend, former Senator and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell who now embarks for you on another historic mission of peace.
I hope very much that Senator Mitchell will succeed. I think the voices I have heard on this trip indicate to me that you want him to succeed, and that you want to succeed.
A lot of incredibly moving things have happened to us today, but I think to me, the most moving were the two children who stood and introduced me this morning in the Mackie Plant in Belfast. They represented all those other children, including children here from Derry who have written me about what peace means to them over the last few weeks.
One young boy said -- the young boy who introduced me said that he studied with and played with people who were both Protestant and Catholic and he'd almost gotten to the point where he couldn't tell the difference. (Laughter.) The beautiful young girl who introduced me, that beautiful played with people who were both Protestant and Catholic, and he'd almost gotten to the point where he couldn't tell the difference. (Laughter.) A beautiful young girl who introduced me, that beautiful child, started off by saying what her Daddy did for a living, and then she said she lost her first Daddy in The Troubles. And she thought about it every day, it was the worst day of her life. And she couldn't stand another loss.
The up side and the down side. And those children joined hands to introduce me. I felt almost as if my speech were superfluous. But I know one thing: Tip O'Neill was smiling down on the whole thing today. (Applause.)
The other night I had a chance to go with Hillary to the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., a wonderful, historic place; it's been there since before our Civil War, and where President Lincoln was assassinated. And I told the people there who come once a year to raise money for it so we can keep it going that we always thought of it as a sad and tragic place, but it was really a place where he came to laugh and escape the cares of our great Civil War. And there, I was thinking that America has always been about three great things, our country: love of liberty, belief in progress, and the struggle for unity.
And the last is in so many ways by far the most difficult. It is a continuing challenge for us to deal with the differences among us, to honestly respect our differences, to stand up where we feel differently about certain things, and still to find that core of common humanity across all the sea of differences which permit us to preserve liberty; to make progress possible and to live up to the deepest truths of our shared human nature.
In the end, that is what this chair is all about. And believe me, we need it everywhere. We need it in the streets of our toughest cities in the United States, where we are attempting to teach our children when they have conflicts, they shouldn't go home and pick up a gun or a knife and hurt each other, they should figure out a way to work through to mutual respect.
We need it in the Middle East, where the Prime Minister of Israel just gave his life to a religious fanatic of his own faith because he dared to make peace and give the children of his country a better future.
We need it in Bosnia, where the leaders have agreed to make peace, but where the people must now purge their heart of the hatred borne of four years of merciless slaughter. We need this everywhere.
So, my friends, I pray not only for your success in making peace, but I pray that through this Chair and through your example, you will become a model for the rest of the world because the world will always need models for peace.
Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 4:59 P.M. (L)
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