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Speech at a dinner in honour of Prime Minister Blair and Mrs. Blair

 

Prime Minister, Mrs. Blair, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Tony and Cherie, it is a very great pleasure to welcome you here to Dublin Castle this evening, after your visit to the King's Inns.

Tony, you and I - and our two Governments - have travelled many miles together in the quest for peace, stability and reconciliation - both in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement and since then.

We still have many miles to go.

But we have come a long way - and I know that we are both determined to keep on going until we have all finally succeeded. We both realise our close cooperation and understanding is essential for progress.

Prime Minister, our two Governments work closely together, not just on Northern Ireland issues, but on a whole range of issues of mutual interest, both bilateral and European.

We look forward to building on this through the British-Irish Council, just as we look forward to developing North-South cooperation through the North-South Ministerial Council. In the past twelve months, I have had the opportunity of visiting Edinburgh and Cardiff, where we have newly established Consulates.

As forward-looking democracies, with so much, including geographic proximity, in common, we also have the opportunity to work for the common good in the broader context of the European Union.

Of course, the links between Ireland and Britain extend beyond intergovernmental cooperation.

Our histories have intertwined over centuries. Some of that history has been difficult. Yet generations of Irish people have made their homes and built their futures in Britain, and contributed to both the industrial revolution and Britain's expansion overseas. Today, we all value the strong ties which exist in the cultural, sporting and many other spheres. We all want to see these ties and bonds of friendship further strengthened, and translate from human and economic relationships into closer political relations. Northern Ireland, once a barrier to understanding, represents now in terms of the Good Friday Agreement a shared determination to succeed. In the past, despite co-ordinated entry and shared partnership, we appeared to have different interests and a different outlook regarding the European Union. Today, I sense a greater convergence, now that the grip of ideology, both for and against European integration, has been loosened.

Prime Minister, with the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement, we - the two Governments, the parties involved and the peoples of these two islands - have established an exciting new venture that will bind us all closer together.

It is a venture that creates a new dispensation, based on partnership, that seeks to forge a deeper understanding and new levels of cooperation, within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between our two islands.

Prime Minister, many lives have been touched by tragedy as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland. We both know the burden of responsibility we bear in trying to consolidate peace, and in trying to resolve outstanding issues. But working together, and with the parties - and with the people behind us - we will succeed.

All parties to the Agreement must follow through the logic of their commitments. It is not possible to get all the benefits of the Agreement without shouldering all the obligations. Everyone needs to understand clearly that an armed peace is not what any of us signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement.

The only long-term basis in which parties will sit round the table together is as unconditional democrats.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us give credit to someone who has much responsibility for the vastly improved prospects for peace on this island.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a true friend of Ireland.

ENDS