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12-12-2000 Speaking in Dundalk at a public event with President Clinton


It's wonderful to be here this evening in Dundalk with President Clinton. As the pictures of this event go out across America, people will see the warm welcome which awaits visitors to Dundalk and County Louth.

President Clinton,

Dundalk is a meeting point between Dublin and Belfast, and has played a central role in the origin and evolution of the peace process. More than most towns in our country, Dundalk, as a border town, has appreciated the need for a lasting and just peace.

The people here are already seeing the difference that peace has made and the special contribution which, President Clinton, you have made to building peace and prosperity in this country.

Here in Dundalk, as Joan has said, the International Fund for Ireland has helped fund dozens of projects, including, the refurbishment of the very area where we are standing.

In 1998, XEROX Corporation made a decision to locate a major technological plant here where almost 1,000 people are employed and I really don't think this would have happened without the peace process.

Going forward, the Dundalk Institute of Technology means that Dundalk now offers third level opportunities to students to train in their home place in the technologies of the future. Dundalk can also look forward to seeing the benefits of the massive investment we are making.

Mr. President, we are deeply grateful for all you and your administration have done to encourage trade and investment. Standing here this evening, we also remember the many other friends you introduced us to along the way, including George Mitchell, Jim Lyons - who is with us here this evening. And, of course, Ron Brown, the gifted Secretary for Commerce and your good friend, who also visited Dundalk almost six years ago to the day, and who died so tragically in Bosnia. We also remember Ron's colleague, Chuck Meissner.

Mr. President, when you took office in January 1993, Northern Ireland was in the grip of bitter conflict. We had twenty-five years of tragedy and frustration, and an entire generation that had never known peace. There seemed little chance of breaking the vicious cycle of despair.

All that has now changed. Peace is now a living reality in a way which few could have thought possible. The people of Ireland treasure peace, and, in every part of the island, totally reject that tiny minority who seek to destroy it. The Government will not swerve from doing all within our power to prevent all attacks on the people's right to peace.

In the Good Friday Agreement, we have an historic accommodation which brings together unionists and nationalists, North and South, as well as British and Irish, on the basis of the shared principles of equality and partnership. We now see the prospect of radical change in human rights, justice and policing.

The success of the peace process is due to the courage, vision and hard work of many people, and to the overwhelming desire of the Irish people for a better way. But it would not have been possible without you.

But you, Mr. President, moved our relationship on to a totally new plane. You made clear that America was a friend of all who wanted peace and agreement. You showed everyone that you could be trusted not to promote a hidden agenda or yield to partisan pressures.

Your patience and good humour has been an example to us all. In the White House itself, you have offered us neutral ground, a listening ear, and wise advice.

Your visits to Ireland have symbolised the many phases of this process. When you first visited us in 1995, your words in Mackie's factory in Belfast, at the Guildhall in Derry, and in College Green in Dublin, captured the hope and determination we all felt. Two years ago, when the island was deeply shaken by the tragedy of Omagh, you and Hillary walked among the heartbroken people of that town, sharing their grief and bringing them comfort in the wake of the senseless, appalling violence they had endured. And now again you come at a time when we need to recall how much has been achieved, and to be encouraged to persevere in the achievement of what remains.

There is some way to go yet. The effective operation of the Good Friday institutions on a fully inclusive basis must be put beyond all doubt. There needs to be a police service in Northern Ireland which can attract the full support of both communities. More progress needs to be made towards a normal, demilitarised society, and weapons must be put totally and verifiably beyond use.

How to resolve any given issue is not always easy or clear. But the one thing of which we are certain is that there is no alternative to the Good Friday Agreement, and no other way forward than the road of peace. We will stay on this course, no matter how long it takes.

No matter what your future holds, I hope, and believe, you will continue to offer us your support and advice. You will always be an honoured and a most welcome guest here . Mr. President, on behalf of the Irish people and the people of Dundalk I thank you from the bottom of my heart.