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Address by Mr David Andrews, at the Exchange of Notifications ceremony at Iveagh House Dublin, 2 December 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Address by Mr David Andrews, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Exchange of Notifications ceremony at Iveagh House, Dublin, 2 December 1999

Secretary of State, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Tá fáilte roimh chuile dhuine anseo inniu ar an ocáid stairiúil seo do mhuintir uile na tíre.

You are all most welcome.

The British-Irish Agreement signed at Belfast on Good Friday, April 10th, 1998, will in a few short minutes enter into force and the new North-South and British-Irish institutions will be established.

Easy to say - not so easy to achieve, but, together, we have achieved great things.

This is indeed a red-letter day. All of us present here will never and should never forget it. But, before we celebrate its full significance, let us remember all those thousands who died. Let us remember those who still suffer pain and loss. For them, and for all the people, we should rededicate ourselves to the twin causes of peace and partnership, so that our island and our islands need never again be riven by conflict and divided in bitterness.

So many have suffered but, over the decades, so many have worked to end the suffering, have worked separately or together to reach agreement and to promote partnership and reconciliation. I can mention only a few and must omit many.

I think of the efforts of successive taoisigh, tánaistes and ministers for foreign affairs of all our major parties.

Following on from the leadership of Éamon de Valera, I think of: Seán Lemass, whose pragmatic vision inspired me when I served with him on the All-Party Committee on the Constitution back in 1967; the late Jack Lynch, whose quiet strength held the line in most difficult times; Liam Cosgrave, who negotiated the Sunningdale Agreement, which more than ever today seems prophetic; Garret FitzGerald, who negotiated the AngloIrish Agreement, which lapses this morning but which helped transform the political landscape; Charles Haughey, who sought to develop an inclusive approach to resolving the Northern conflict; Albert Reynolds, whose tenacity and determination were instrumental in achieving the Downing Street Declaration and the ceasefires; and John Bruton, who so positively advanced the process through negotiating the Joint Framework Document. I also wish to acknowledge the central role of the former Tánaiste, Dick Spring.

The line continues to the present, to Bertie Ahern, who has been tireless and brilliant, in his efforts both to negotiate and to implement the Good Friday agreement. I also want warmly to acknowledge the work of my current ministerial colleagues, John O'Donoghue and Liz O'Donnell.

The progressively stronger relationship between the British and Irish governments has been the firm foundation of the process. I pay tribute to the drive and commitment of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair; to the skill and judgment of the Secretary of State; and, of course, to his predecessor, Mo Mowlam, whose energy and humanity were an inspiration. I also want to recognise the contribution of many fine British officials, some of whom are here today. They have worked creatively and constructively with our own public servants.

We have benefited throughout from the support of the international community, in particular our partners in the European Union and our friends across the Atlantic. President Clinton has done much for us, but the very best thing the President did was to send us George Mitchell and I am delighted to see the US Ambassador, Mike Sullivan, and the President's Special Adviser for Economic Initiatives in Ireland, Jim Lyons, with us this morning.

People sometimes ask me: "Is George Mitchell really as good as he seems?" And I reply: "Even better." Without his wisdom and judgment we would never have broken through to where we are now.

We, as governments, invited George Mitchell to conduct the review. We stood back - though from time to time it wasn't easy - and gave George the space to get on with the job. We are deeply in his debt.

Reaching the agreement and implementing it have depended crucially on the vision, courage, and leadership of Northern politicians. John Hume has been and continues to be a towering figure. David Trimble, Reg Empey, Seamus Mallon, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness: they have all been utterly indispensable. David Ervine and Gary McMic hael have transformed the face of loyalism.

None of this is to forget the thousands of others, in politics, in the churches, in business and in the trade union movement, in academic life and in the media who have tried to break down barriers and to forge new links, who have fought sectarianism and worked for reconciliation.

But today is not about the past, it is about the future. That is why I am so pleased that we have here today young people who represent the diverse traditions and experiences which make up modern Ireland. But I also hope and trust that each and every one of them will achieve all that they are individually capable of.

The true success of the agreement will be judged by whether it frees the people of Ireland, North and South, nationalist and unionist, to live and work together - without regard to labels or categories, but simply as people sharing a single island and a common humanity. Of course we will continue to cherish deeply our traditions and aspirations. We are, nationalists and unionists, on a continuing voyage of mutual self-discovery, but never again must dogmatic intransigence, on any of our parts, be elevated above the needs of our people.

The agreement must also serve to deepen the already strong bonds which exist between the people of these islands: Irish, Scots, Welsh and English.

The agreement is not a blueprint, but a framework - a framework for co-operation and common action, for reconciliation, for mutual respect and for partnership. What develops within that framework is for this and future generations to agree.

It is for the people of the next century, of the next millennium, to write their own history. Part of the responsibility will rest with the young people here today and with their contemporaries.

Starting from today, we must work to make the agreement a success. This will not be easy. There will be hurdles to overcome all along the way, new problems to confront.

But in a strange way I believe that the very length of time it has taken to reach this point has served to deepen the agreement's roots. Having gone to the brink, we cherish it even more. It belongs equally to all the people of the island. Now it is up to each one of us, as political representatives, as civic leaders, and as citizens, to realise its vast potential, to make real its promise of a truly new beginning.

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