Irish Republican News · June 17, 2013
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Obama urges peace, reconciliation ahead of G8


US President Barack Obama has urged schoolchildren and politicians in the North to work towards a more lasting peace and an end to sectarian divisions.

Fifteen years after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement, which saw Sinn Fein join unionists in a partitioned, Six-County administration and lend their support to the British security forces, the US president said the world was watching for the next stage of the process.

In a 30-minute speech at Belfast’s showpiece Waterfront Hall, he suggested it was time for an end to segregated education and housing.

He said: “You need to get this right. You set the example for those who are seeking peace to end conflicts of their own.

“You are their blueprint to follow. You are the proof of what is possible. Hope is contagious. They are watching to see what you do next.”

There was extremely high security in Belfast for Obama’s visit, with several main routes closed during the night, although they have since reopened.

During the heavily orchestrated event in front of an invited audience of media, dignitaries and school students, Mr Obama lauded the North’s peace process as a model and promised that the USA would continue to support “Northern Ireland” and the Stormont political system.

He said Belfast was a “changed city”, with pubs full of people asking each other: “what’s the craic?”

He said this generation could now travel without the burden of checkpoints or soldiers on patrol. People could be friends with and fall in love with whoever they wished.

But he said it was up to the next generation to build a genuinely reconciled society. “The previous generation brought the ceasefires and the Agreement. The next stage in the process was up to the next generation present in the hall.”

He added: “Peace is not just about politics. It is about attitudes, a sense of empathy and breaking down barriers in hearts.”

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the First and Deputy First Ministers of the Stormont power-sharing executive, greeted the president on arrival at the Waterfront and held a brief private meeting before Mr Obama appeared on stage.

Mr Obama acknowledged the challenges that exist.

“There are still people who have not reaped the rewards of peace, there are those who are not convinced that the effort is worth it.

“There are still wounds that have not been healed and communities where tension and mistrust hangs in the air. There are walls that still stand, there are still many miles to go.”

He said it was within his audience’s power to change that.

“Whether you are a good neighbour to someone from the other side of past battles, that is up to you,” he warned.

“Whether you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve, that is up to you.

“Whether you let your kids play with kids who attended a different church...that is up to you.”

Mr Obama travels today to the G8 summit in Fermanagh, where he is seeking international backing for a new military intervention on one side of Syria’s sectarian civil war, as well as continued support for US involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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© 2013 Irish Republican News