The following are excerpts from the speech delivered by President Clinton’s Friday at the White House as he accepted the Paul O’Dwyer Peace and Justice Award:
I thank the members of Congress who are here who have supported our policy, both Republicans and Democrats who have stood up for the initiative the United States has made, and made it possible for me to continue to do whatever it is that we have been able to do to advance the cause of peace. This is an honor that really belongs to all of you and many who are not even here today. But mostly, whenever I look at it, I will think of Paul O’Dwyer, for his devotion to civil rights and human rights and social justice and the cause of the Irish people and peace in the Irish heart. He was beloved by many people, including me. I will never forget when I first met hm in 1991. I will never forget all that happened from that day to this, and the wonderful journey that began with Irish Americans and the people of Ireland.
I know it will grieve you, but I’m not going to give this speech that my wonderful staff wrote for me, because we’ve been here too long. But I want to make a couple of points. This is not a done deal, number one. It’s wonderful, and even on our last trip it was great — Secretary Daley was there and people were actually talking about business instead of fighting. We went to Stormont and I got to meet — at least all the different parties stood in the same room together. Even Mr. Paisley’s crowd was in the same room with everybody else and we had a visit. It was kind of nice. I liked it.
And then I went to Waterfront Hall and tried to be as honest as I could be about what still has to be done. We’ve got to constitute a government over there consistent with the agreement. We have to continue with the decommissioning. We have to complete every last step of this process. But the good news is the people really want it. You know, we went to Armagh, to this beautiful, beautiful city. We had thousands of people there, young and old, in the seat of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland — the last popular Englishman in Ireland until Tony Blair came along, I think. But it was so wonderful to see all those young people there. And then I can’t add anything to what Hillary told you about Omagh, except that through all their heartbreak they wanted us to go on, and they wanted this to go on.
And in the Republic — we had 50,000 people in the streets in Limerick — 50,000 people — including Congressman King and his mother and half of his relatives. And then every little Irish village I went through in the west of Ireland on the way to Ballybunion, where everybody was in the streets, and the stores had all be repainted, and it was just unbelievable — they weren’t there for me so much as they were there for the United States, and for the idea that the United States is a genuine friend to the Irish people, and to the reconciliation of the Irish people.
It’s also very much in our interest. Ireland’s got the fastest growing economy in Europe — about 500 companies there already. We visited one, Gateway 2000, had an amazing experience there — the congressional delegation here that was with us. Our partnership means a lot to the world. No nation has done as much as long, as consistently, for peacekeeping as Ireland has. Over the last 40 years, I don’t believe there’s been a single day there hasn’t been an Irish peacekeeper somewhere in the world — 75 have perished, but to day, they’re still there, from Africa to the Middle East to Bosnia, shoulder to shoulder, with American troops. So we have a common agenda in terms of our economic interests, but a common agenda in terms of our deep commitment to peace.
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From the Middle East to Kosovo to Kashmir to the tribal conflicts in Africa, I would like to tell them the story of the hundreds of years of Irish history. I would like to tell them about the potato famines and the civil war and the conflicts with the British, and the deeply embedded hatreds, and how in our time it all went away. Because one of the problems we have in so many places is that people literally cannot imagine a future different from the present and the past. And if we finish this job, then we can go anywhere in the world and say, look, I know you’ve got a lot of problems and I know you can’t stand your neighbor over there, but let me tell you about Northern Ireland. And every one of you knows — every one of you knows — that you have played a role in that.
A hundred years ago this year, William Butler Yeats gave a speech evaluating Ireland’s past and predicting a new day. It’s quite a deal for him to be optimistic, you know. He said, "We are building up a nation which shall be moved by noble purposes to noble ends." Well, it’s taken some time to realize that vision. Almost 20 years after he wrote that, he was saying that things fall apart, the center cannot hold. I think he would be greatly pleased to know that things have come together, and the center seems to be holding very well, thank you.
So again let me say, I thank you all. This award belongs to all of you. But we have work to do. And when we do, when Ireland finally does completely come home to itself, it will be a gift not only to the Irish and not only to those of us who are Irish Americans; it will be a gift for the whole world — a gift the world sorely needs. And all of you will have played a role in giving it.