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Seamus Mallon's Address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998

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Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Seamus Mallon, Deputy First Minister designate, address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Thursday 3 September 1998

President Clinton, Prime Minister, First minister, distinguished guests. It is my pleasure, and honour, to welcome you back to Northern Ireland. It is indeed fitting, Mr president, that a man from a town called Hope in Arkansas has come again to a place where hope lives again as a result of your interest, encouragement and help.

As a candidate for the presidency back in 1992 you made a promise: "Senator Gore and I share the goal of all Irish-Americans for peace in Northern Ireland. We believe that the United States must reflect this concern more effectively in its foreign policy." You have delivered on your commitment. You have helped us to break free, against all the odds, free from a violent and bitter past to set forth on the awesome, yet exciting road on our new journey of hope.

We the people of Ireland also made our commitment when we signed the Good Friday agreement and endorsed it in referenda. We also will deliver on our commitment. We will implement the agreement in full and make it a beacon of hope for this generation.

The prime minister put it well for all of us when he came to Castle Buildings for the concluding days of the all-party negotiations ­ he felt the hand of history on his shoulder. Neither the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern nor he ever wavered in their efforts to help us create a new way of life. We thank them for their commitment and their resolve to end our nightmare of violence and political uncertainty.

And there was the man who came as a mediator and left ­ when he eventually got away ­ as our friend. I refer to the eminent jurist, and distinguished senate majority leader, known simply and affectionately in these parts as 'George'. His patience, skill and deep humanity eased us through the darkest days ­ and nights ­ and led us quite literally into the morning light of Good Friday. Thank you, George; we are proud to have known you.

As we take pleasure in the progress achieved and acknowledge the help our friends have given us on our journey, we remember the terrible price that has been paid by so many during those terrible years. Mr president, when you meet the people of Omagh who have suffered so dreadfully during this cruel summer, when you speak to victims of 30 years of violence in Armagh; when you speak to people on the street you will see pain in their eyes .

It may well remind you, as I do now, of the words from a poem by Maya Angelou spoken at your inauguration an 20th January 1993: "Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." That 'wrenching pain' can only be fathomed by those who have suffered most, but you will also see a readiness to face history with a courage which will touch you, just as it has inspired us.

I believe passionately that one of the profound benefits of the Good Friday agreement is the capacity it gives us to break free from the past and write our own history. To do so, we all need to create space for each other. We are limited only by what we have agreed.

The road to the future is always under construction. The democratic institution of the assembly will take root to become a living symbol of hope and confidence for all the people of Northern Ireland. We will establish a north-south ministerial council which will serve as a model for inter-regional relationships. We will create a British-Irish council to promote the totality of relationships among the people of these islands in a sense of harmony that benefits our membership of the developing European Union. We will build a new future based on the skills, creativity and character of our people. Our young people are a source of hope for our future. Consequently, will give priority to education, sharing Prime Minister Blair's view that "'unless we get our education system right our children will not be prosperous and our country will not be just".

We will use education and training to combat exclusion and inequality. Most importantly, we know that in the now information-based global economy, jobs and investment flow to those regions which are rich in skills, and which have a modem technological infrastructure. We will seek to work with our American and with our European partners to create here in Northern Ireland the most attractive conditions for growth and investment.

This is our covenant with our people at home, and our friends abroad. Like you, we will honour our pledge. Together we will ensure that "tomorrow is another country".

Mr president by your presence here again you have shown that your solidarity spans the longest day and the darkest night. We firmly believe that a bright tomorrow dawns for us. With us, as Robert Frost put it, you took the road "less travelled by, and that has made all the difference".

Safe journey to us all as we set out to ensure that "tomorrow really is another country".

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