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Tony Blair's Address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998

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Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Thursday 3 September 1998

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 ago.

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 gratitude.

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 past.

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