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David Trimble's Address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998

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Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

David Trimble, First Minister designate, address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Thursday 3 September 1998

Mr Lord Mayor, Mr President, First Lady, Prime Minister, distinguished guests. As First Minister of Northern Ireland it is my great pleasure and honour to welcome you to Belfast. Mr President your reception here today shows how deeply your concern and interest is appreciated by us all.

That interest reflects the many who migrated from these shores: it reflects the dozen or so US presidents of Ulster descent: it reflects the historical circumstances that made Belfast the second diplomatic post established by the fledgling United States. But that interest today is not based merely on historical experience: it is based on shared ideals of peace, freedom and democracy, and a shared experience in defence of democracy this century. Above all it is based on a common language and culture which alone are sufficient to sustain the special relationship between our two countries.

So much has changed since your last visit. So much has happened. We now have an agreement which many believed impossible to achieve. New structures of government are being established and new relationships are being developed within these islands. Unionists and nationalists will work together to build a new stable and prosperous Northern Ireland.

Indeed it is fitting that today we greet you here in this beautiful building which, when you last visited us, was a mere wasteland. The people of Northern Ireland are building a new beginning for themselves which they have entrusted myself and my assembly colleagues who met this morning to manage.

I have no doubt that there will be many difficulties along the way, but in this new era, the challenge is for leaders to show imagination and vision. We are determined to do everything we can to make the agreement work. Others may fail to challenge or lack the courage, but if we do not take this opportunity, our children and our children's children will not understand.

The hopes engendered by the agreement are predicated on a genuine and lasting peace. There have been welcome developments this week. I hope these mark the beginning of the reconstruction of those who have in the past been involved in the type of terrible violence we have witnessed in Omagh. The same terrorism has visited recently itself upon Americans and Africans.

I know Mr president when you last visited us, you said to the men of violence here, that their day was over; that there was no room for guns at democracy's table. There is no justification for violence. There never has been. If the so-called war is really over, then there is no justification for holding onto illegal weapons.

Mr president, the path ahead is for true democrats only. As first minister and leader of Northern Ireland, I can not reconcile seeking positions in government with a failure to discharge responsibilities under the agreement to dismantle their terrorist organisations.

There can be no grey area. As the leader of the most powerful democracy on this Earth, I know you stand shoulder to shoulder with those of us who wish to protect democracy. And that equally you stand with us against those who use violence and threats to undermine democracy and the agreement. Words alone cannot heal the mistrust but deeds will. People want not just to hear of peace, they want to see it. And they deserve it.

Mr president, as first minister I will speak to anyone who has the good of Northern Ireland at heart. But no democrat can tolerate coercive threats. Once we can speak in freedom, once we are agreed our only weapons will be our words, then there is nothing that cannot be said; there is nothing that cannot be achieved.

All of those in the new assembly must now get down to the historic and honourable task of this generation: to raise up a new Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists work in partnership. I believe we can provide a pluralist parliament for a pluralist people ­ a government by this people ­ for this people.

There have been risks and difficulties along the way. But there has been progress too. We are, Mr president, much further forward than the last time you were here. And we will keep moving forward. And I say this to those who are crossing the bridge from terror to democracy. Every move you make towards peace, I welcome. Every pledge you make to peace, I will hold you to it. And as first minister, I will work with anyone who has the interests of peace at heart. I will be frank. I will try to be firm. Each part of the agreement, including decommissioning must be implemented. But if you take the road of peace and do so in genuine good faith, you will find me a willing leader in that journey.

There is much work to be done. We must move on. We must reach out and reach beyond where we are now. We have taken the first steps, we must be brave when we meet the bad patches in the middle, and keep going no matter what.

Mr president, in this new era, progress is paramount. Our political and our economic links must continue to develop. Northern Ireland can become the gateway to Europe. We have uniquely talented and enthusiastic young people, a government committed to enterprise, qualities that are second to none.

I say to you and your fellow countrymen today, as the leader of Northern Ireland, visit here and we will welcome you, invest here and we will work with you. If they did not already know it, let the rest of the world take note, Northern Ireland is back in business.

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