Remarks of the President at Shamrocks Presentation

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1999


The Rose Garden

2:10 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Happy St. Patrick's Day -- and what a beautiful day it is.

We are following the custom today, which is, first of all, I received my shamrock, for which I am very grateful; and with the year ahead I'd say we are very much in need of them and we'll make good use of them. I would like to ask the Taoiseach to come up now and make his remarks, as is customary, and then I'd like to say a few words about where we are in the peace process.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome back to the United States. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Mr. President, on behalf of the people of ireland, it gives me a great pleasure to present, as I've just done, the bowl of shamrock, the traditional symbol of St. Patrick's Day and of peace, from the Irish people to you, President, and to your people.

I'd like to convey to you and the First Lady, and through you to the American people, the warmest greetings of the people of Ireland on this beautiful, fine St. Patrick's Day.

On this day when our Irish heritage is being celebrated around the globe, we recall with special pride the close bonds between our island and this great nation. The history of each country has been profoundly shaped and enriched by the other. But the relationship is not just a matter of pride in our history.

The American dimension is relevant for Ireland now as never before in achieving key goals that are vital for our future. Our links with America, ladies and gentlemen, are a crucial ingredient in our current efforts to build prosperity for our people through encouraging inward investment, and American support, so well personified by your dedicated efforts, Mr. President, is equally crucial in another great enterprise, the work of building a peaceful future for all who live on our island.

This time last year, Mr. President, you spoke to the political leaders here in the White House as we approached a final phase of the negotiations of the multiparty talks. You said then that this is a chance of a lifetime for peace in Ireland. You must get it done. You must do it for yourself and your children.

Well, Mr. President, your words were heeded and bore fruit. The Good Friday Agreement was a collective act of political courage and decisive breakthrough. It holds out the promise of a new beginning based on partnership, equality, mutual respect and rejection of violence for political ends.

The people, North and South, have now made the agreement their own. Their mandate cannot be ignored. The huge and enthusiastic crowds which greeted you and Mrs. Clinton during your second visit to Ireland last year expressed more eloquently than any words could how much the Irish people value the contribution which you and your administration made to this historic breakthrough.

You saw firsthand the fervent hopes that, through the agreement, we can at last turn the page of a bitter past. You saw also the sorrow caused by people who even now have not learned the lesson of the futility of violence, which the crime of Omagh underlined more starkly than ever before. And the murder this week of a dedicated lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, was another grim reminder that peace has its ruthless enemies on both sides, and that we must work resolutely together to ensure that they can never prevail.

Mr. President, with your support, we have to continue to work hard. And we have, I think, done a major amount since last Good Friday. The agreement was signed, the assembly has been set up. David Trimble and Seamus Mallon have given inspiring examples of how partnership can work in practice. The Irish and British parliaments have passed the enormous volume of legislation needed for the establishment of the new political institutions. Our two governments have just signed four historic new treaties to set up North-South bodies and to give effect to our commitments under the agreement.

Prisoners have been released. A human rights commission has been set to work. Other commissions are working and considering how Northern Ireland can be given a fully representative police service and how the criminal justice system can be improved.

We have reached the point only where one obstacle remains blocking the progress of the agreement and to the launch of the new political institutions which our people have mandated. The current impasse between the launch of these new initiatives, some progress on decommissioning, shows that there is still a serious deficit of trust which we must now strive to overcome. We have all come too far to let this apparent impasse undo the enormous progress that has been made. And failure is not an option.

Last year we left the White House with renewed determination to overcome the many different obstacles that we have faced on the path to the agreement. We have overcome these difficulties and I think we can look back now and say that we have successfully overcome most of them -- all the earlier hurdles that we thought were impossible have now been surmounted.

So, President, the one last obstacle will yield also to a collective effort made with good faith and goodwill. Every party to the agreement has a part to play in the solution. And that solution, whatever its fine details, will be found in a renewed commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

So let us today, on this special occasion -- which I'm honored to be part of, Mr. President -- rededicate ourselves in the weeks ahead to work intensely with the parties, with General John DeChastelaim, to afford each other the necessary political space which will dispose of this last remaining difficulty.

I am confident, Mr. President, that your support and that of Vice President Gore, that we can find that space. Together, we can build that additional element of trust and confidence that will enable us to proceed to the fall implementation of the agreement. We will finish, of course, and create a new beginning for Northern Ireland that all the people of Irish heritage can be proud of.

Mr. President, on behalf of the Irish people, I want to thank you for all you have done over these last number of years, and particularly for your close attention to the details of Ireland in the last 12 months. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Taoiseach. Thank you for the beautiful crystal bowl of shamrocks, its promise of spring, which is reflected in the weather we enjoy today, and its symbol of our shared heritage, our shared values and our shared hopes for the future.

Let me say first a few words of tribute to you for your leadership of the Republic and the success you have enjoyed. Last year was Bertie Ahern's first St. Patrick's Day in Washington as Taoiseach. I talked then about Frank McCourt growing up in poverty in Limerick; about Van Morrison growing up in Belfast and hearing a new world through music; about a generation of children growing up in the shadows of The Troubles. Together on that day, the Taoiseach and I reaffirmed that the parties in Northern Ireland had the chance to find common ground. Now, a year later, look at what's happened. First of all, as I told the Taoiseach over lunch, Frank McCourt's book, "Angela's Ashes" is being made into a movie. But Ireland and Limerick are doing so well, economically, as I had a chance to see for myself last summer, that the producers could not find in all of Limerick enough dilapidated buildings to use in the film. And so in order to film in Ireland, they actually had to construct new dilapidated buildings. That is true economic progress.

Meanwhile, Van Morrison's music continues to inspire people seeking to end the violence, and, of course, most importantly, in the last year the negotiators did the job with the Good Friday Agreement.

The people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic overwhelmingly endorsed it, and as the Taoiseach has said, enormous progress has been made in its implementation. We are grateful for the work of the leaders in Northern Ireland, in Ireland and in Great Britain, for their support and their efforts in this regard. We are grateful, in particular, for the Taoiseach, for Prime Minister Blair, for Mo Mowlam, and all those who have taken an especially leading role. We are grateful for the Nobel Prize winners, John Hume and David Trimble, and all the other leaders of the various factions in Northern Ireland.

But, as Bertie said, the enemies of peace are still rearing their head. We saw it in Omagh. We saw it on Monday with the murder of Rosemary Nelson. We saw it with another act of violence yesterday.

Now, in a few short weeks, the time will come to bring the new institutions to life so that the people of Northern Ireland finally can begin to take their destinies into their own hands.

To fully implement the Good Friday Accord, the parties simply must resolve their differences, and to do it, they have to have the same spirit of cooperation and trust that led to the first agreement. They must lift their sights above the short- term difficulties. They must see that distant horizon when children will grow up in an Ireland trouble-free, and not even remember how it used to be.

You know, on St. Patrick's Day, we all rejoice in being Irish -- even people that aren't Irish in America claim to be Irish. I told the Taoiseach at the Speaker's Lunch -- we just came from that -- I said, you know, every time we have these St. Patrick's Day events, the Prime Minister of Ireland and all of the leaders of all the factions in Northern Ireland, they come here to the United States and they thank us for helping to promote the peace in Ireland. But the truth is, we should be thanking them because it's the only time we can be absolutely sure there will be peace between Republicans and Democrats in the United States. When they come here, all the Irish Republicans and the Irish Democrats in the United States, and all the people who claim to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day actually behave in a very civil and cooperative way toward one another.

I think it's worth remembering that when St. Patrick came from England to Christianize Ireland, he did it without a sword, without the order of law. It was the only time in all history that a whole nation had converted without any force or bloodshed. He did it by carefully listening to the Irish people, understanding what they needed to do, how they could change, how they could not, and treating them with a profound amount of care and respect.

We pray now that the Irish people on opposite sides of this last divided peace process will heed the example of St. Patrick, and give us an even bigger celebration here next year. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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