Opinion-Editorial by President Clinton for the Belfast Telegraph (10/19/00)

                                THE WHITE HOUSE

                         Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Boston, Massachusetts)

________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                  October 20, 2000


                     OPINION-EDITORIAL BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
                           FOR THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH
                                October 19, 2000

                   
                  "Why The Good Friday Agreement Is Working"

                        By President William J. Clinton

In his first Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln called upon Americans
to heed "the better angels of our nature" to dissuade them from embarking on a
long and bloody civil war.

Just over two years ago, the leaders and people of Northern Ireland summoned the
better angels of their nature to negotiate, sign, and approve the Good Friday
Agreement in a courageous bid to end nearly 30 years of strife and agony. The
Agreement reflected more than the common humanity that unites the people of
Northern Ireland, no matter their faith. It reflected their self-interest -
their heartfelt conviction that the sacrifices and compromises required for
peace would be far easier to bear than the burden of more violence and
bloodshed.

George Mitchell said at the time that, as difficult as the Agreement was to
negotiate, implementing it would prove more difficult still - and he was right.
Two-and-one-half years later, the Agreement is working, but it is straining
under intense criticism. I know that many in the unionist community feel deeply
uncomfortable with changes relating to security and have concerns that the right
to express British identity is being attacked. Nationalists and republicans have
voiced concerns of their own about prospects for full equality and
implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.

I believe the Good Friday Agreement is fully capable of addressing these
concerns. Now is the time to reaffirm its core principles.

-The principle of consent: no decision on changing the constitutional connection
linking Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom will be made without support
from a majority of Northern Ireland voters. This expresses respect for British
sovereignty in Northern Ireland -- and also for the legitimate wish of Irish
people to pursue a united Ireland.

-Self-government that is democratic, inclusive, and whose participants use
exclusively peaceful means to accomplish their aims. The main institutions of
government, an elected Assembly and a power-sharing Executive, contain
safeguards for protecting minority interests and for excluding those who use or
support violence.

-Strict protection of individual human and civil rights. On October 2, Northern
Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole incorporated the European Convention
on Human Rights into domestic law. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
is now consulting on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

The people of Northern Ireland support these principles. And for all of their
disagreements, so do Northern Ireland's politicians.

The reason, I believe, is simple: Devolved government based on the Stormont
Assembly and Executive is working. Even politicians from parties professing to
be "anti-Agreement" are participating actively, delivering their constituents
democratic and accountable regional government. For the first time in 30 years,
Northern Ireland's politicians are producing their own budget and Programme for
Government.

This means that problems in the areas of agriculture, health, the environment
and education, to name a few, are now the responsibility of local ministers who
must answer to local voters. Some may be uncomfortable with power-sharing, but
most agree that it is better than being powerless. And foreign investors are
taking note of the prospects opened up by these developments - for example, the
900-job call centre that a Denver-based company recently announced will open in
north Belfast.

What's more, the Agreement has enabled government ministers from Northern
Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to work together to benefit people
throughout the island, by developing co-operation in such areas as trade, food
safety and EU programmes. Sessions of the North-South Ministerial Council focus
on concrete results rather than constitutional debate.

Change this profound is never easy. I applaud the people of Northern Ireland for
working to set aside old animosities and to accept even the most difficult
elements of the Good Friday Agreement, such as prisoner releases. Yet tough
challenges remain, such as adapting the police force in Northern Ireland to earn
the confidence and support of all the people, and resolving the issue of
paramilitary weapons.

The Agreement offers a chance for a fresh start on policing. It established an
independent commission chaired by Chris Patten with a mandate to make
recommendations in this highly sensitive area. Some of the Patten Report's
proposed changes have distressed those who honour the many sacrifices made by
police officers in Northern Ireland.


I urge everyone to reflect on Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan's statement that
the police stand ready for the challenges proposed by Patten and that it is his
"fervent hope that those in all our communities whom we exist to serve stand
similarly ready for change."Everyone in Northern Ireland, including the police,
deserve the chance to prove themselves anew under the Agreement. That said, for
police reform to work, the entire community must take ownership of the process,
taking not just the pain of the past, but more importantly the demands of the
future, into account. The opportunity to achieve a police service that is
broadly acceptable and fully accountable is too important and too close at hand
to be lost to political brinkmanship.

On the question of paramilitary organisations, the Good Friday Agreement is both
clear and unequivocal - in it, all parties commit themselves to the total
disarmament of all such groups. The IRA's decision to allow independent
inspectors to view arms dumps last June and to verify that the weapons are not
moved or used represented unprecedented progress. The IRA also committed itself
to resume contacts with the Independent International Commission on
Decommissioning and to put weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use" in the
context of full implementation of the Agreement.

Republican leaders say these commitments will be met. I welcome that, and look
forward to further, timely progress in this vital area. I urge loyalist
paramilitaries to make similar undertakings, even as courageous political
leaders work to bring an end to the dangerous feuding under way in that
community. All sides must work together to renew momentum toward the goal
spelled out in the Agreement: total decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons.


But perhaps harder still will be what George Mitchell called the
"decommissioning of mind-sets". The confidence that is the foundation of peace
is all too easily eroded by distrust, defensiveness, and fear. It is almost
always easier to fall back on old habits than it is to fulfil new hopes.


In making decisions that will determine Northern Ireland's future, political
leaders must pause and consider whether their actions will advance the cause of
durable peace and genuine reconciliation. Every political leader is subject to
short-term political pressures. But in Northern Ireland, I believe it is
critical for all to consider how their actions in the heat of the moment today
will be felt a year, a decade, a generation from now. It is human nature to take
the good for granted and to focus on our frustrations, giving in to those
frustrations would be a tragic mistake, with terrible consequences.

On my last visit to Northern Ireland in 1998, I met with the families of the
victims and the survivors of the Omagh bombing. That visit was a vivid reminder
of the alternative to peace -- and it made clear the determination of the people
of Northern Ireland to overcome the sorrow and bitterness of the last 30 years
and build a better future.

During the recently completed inquest into the Omagh bombing, that determination
to build was still on display - as was the profound frustration that the
dissidents responsible for the attack have not been brought to justice.

For a durable peace to be achieved, both of these emotions must be harnessed
effectively. And there should be no mistake about it: US law enforcement will
aggressively target any effort from whatever quarter to undermine the peace
process through illegal activities from the United States.


The Good Friday Agreement represents the very best hope for lasting peace in
Northern Ireland. Fully implementing, it will make Northern Ireland a beacon of
hope for those who struggle for reconciliation and peace in every corner of the
world - from the Balkans to the Middle East.

I hope to be able to visit Northern Ireland soon, and to confirm that the will
of the people is being heeded.

                                     # # #


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