Tony Blair's Address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998
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Tony Blair, British Prime Minister,
address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Later today, we go to Omagh. Tragedy
that has united the communities in grief, outrage and determination.
Because even now, after that evil and barbaric act, we know that
today is different, the world in Northern Ireland has changed
and the possibilities for a genuine and lasting peace do exist.
The carnage of terrorism is all too
familiar to people here. But there are unfamiliar and welcome
things happening too. First: There is a political process underway
that by agreement, settles the constitutional principle governing
Northern Ireland once and for all. The principle of consent
that there be no change in the constitutional status of Northern
Ireland and that it remains part of the UK for as long as a majority
of people here desire it is now enshrined in the law of
both north and south. And it is there by agreement. Balanced
by an insistence on fairness and equality of treatment for all
and by a promise of co-operation across the border where it is
in the mutual interests of both sides to do so.
Second: This agreement has been endorsed
in referendums by all the people of the island of Ireland. For
the first time since partition they spoke together. They expressed
their collective will. They did so overwhelmingly. The democratic
underpinning of the agreement is now beyond doubt or question.
Third: All the political parties, north
and south are committed to a political future fashioned through
exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Every single political
party with any real support connected with paramilitary organisations
now supports that principle. Those people that don't those
that hanker after terror are criminals without a political
base, without a vote, without one iota of support anywhere, in
any part of any community.
Fourth: The British and Irish governments
are today working more closely together, with greater vigour and
better spirit than anyone can ever remember.
These are changes that are fundamental,
that are real and each one of them unthinkable just a few years
With all the difficulties of progress
evident, let us not forget these extraordinary, unprecedented
leaps of hope this troubled land has taken. What we need now is
vision, courage and commitment. The visions of a Northern Ireland
where in the future no-one cares what religion or what community
you were born into. Where they ask not where you came from, but
who you are. Where the former terrorists weapons are de-commissioned
and taken out of Irish politics forever. Where soldiers no longer
have to patrol the streets to keep the peace. Where political
discourse is about schools, hospitals, jobs and industry, not
the remnants of sectarianism.
Courage: the courage to move ahead,
to take risks, to be prepared even when close supporters criticise,
to have the imagination which is the hallmark of true leadership.
There are those in Northern Ireland, at times too many, who can
give you 15 reasons for staying still. 1,500 reasons for going
back. But not one for going forward. Yet this is the time to
go forward, carefully yes, but with the certainty that there is
no alternative but to carry on.
Commitment: unswerving commitments to
see this through. Even in Omagh, even after the bomb, I found,
on the lips of virtually all, the quietly expressed insistence
that "we don't give up, we see it through" Our success
in achieving peace could be no better memorial to Omagh's victims, to bring good out of evil.
All of us have a part to play. And you,
Mr President, have played a part already. There is no President
of the United States of America that has done more for peace in
Northern Ireland than you. During these past 15 months I have
often sought your help and support. Not once has it been unforthcoming.
No call was ever left unmade, no step left untaken. No effort,
great or small, was too much.
Above all your grasp of the complexity
of the issues and the subtlety of competing claims of justice,
has meant your commitment to help was matched by your capacity
to help. The people of Northern Ireland owe you a deep debt of
And I say this: if this process ends
where we want it to end, in lasting peace in Northern Ireland,
then when the history of that peace is written, your place within
it is assured.
We all strive. None harder than the
new First Minister and Deputy First Minister, from different traditions
but united in their responsibility now to govern across the divide,
beyond the old enmities. They are the future. Violence is the
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