David Trimble's Address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Thursday 3 September 1998
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David Trimble, First Minister designate, address at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Mr Lord Mayor, Mr President, First Lady,
Prime Minister, distinguished guests. As First Minister of Northern
Ireland it is my great pleasure and honour to welcome you to
Belfast. Mr President your reception here today shows how deeply
your concern and interest is appreciated by us all.
That interest reflects the many who
migrated from these shores: it reflects the dozen or so US presidents
of Ulster descent: it reflects the historical circumstances that
made Belfast the second diplomatic post established by the fledgling
United States. But that interest today is not based merely on
historical experience: it is based on shared ideals of peace,
freedom and democracy, and a shared experience in defence of democracy
this century. Above all it is based on a common language and culture
which alone are sufficient to sustain the special relationship
between our two countries.
So much has changed since your last
visit. So much has happened. We now have an agreement which many
believed impossible to achieve. New structures of government are
being established and new relationships are being developed within
these islands. Unionists and nationalists will work together to
build a new stable and prosperous Northern Ireland.
Indeed it is fitting that today we greet
you here in this beautiful building which, when you last visited
us, was a mere wasteland. The people of Northern Ireland are building
a new beginning for themselves which they have entrusted myself
and my assembly colleagues who met this morning to manage.
I have no doubt that there will be many
difficulties along the way, but in this new era, the challenge
is for leaders to show imagination and vision. We are determined
to do everything we can to make the agreement work. Others may
fail to challenge or lack the courage, but if we do not take this
opportunity, our children and our children's children will not
The hopes engendered by the agreement
are predicated on a genuine and lasting peace. There have been
welcome developments this week. I hope these mark the beginning
of the reconstruction of those who have in the past been involved
in the type of terrible violence we have witnessed in Omagh. The
same terrorism has visited recently itself upon Americans and
I know Mr president when you last visited
us, you said to the men of violence here, that their day was over;
that there was no room for guns at democracy's table. There is
no justification for violence. There never has been. If the so-called
war is really over, then there is no justification for holding
onto illegal weapons.
Mr president, the path ahead is for
true democrats only. As first minister and leader of Northern
Ireland, I can not reconcile seeking positions in government with
a failure to discharge responsibilities under the agreement to
dismantle their terrorist organisations.
There can be no grey area. As the leader
of the most powerful democracy on this Earth, I know you stand
shoulder to shoulder with those of us who wish to protect democracy.
And that equally you stand with us against those who use violence
and threats to undermine democracy and the agreement. Words alone
cannot heal the mistrust but deeds will. People want not just
to hear of peace, they want to see it. And they deserve it.
Mr president, as first minister I will
speak to anyone who has the good of Northern Ireland at heart.
But no democrat can tolerate coercive threats. Once we can speak
in freedom, once we are agreed our only weapons will be our words,
then there is nothing that cannot be said; there is nothing that
cannot be achieved.
All of those in the new assembly must
now get down to the historic and honourable task of this generation:
to raise up a new Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists
work in partnership. I believe we can provide a pluralist parliament
for a pluralist people a government by this people
for this people.
There have been risks and difficulties
along the way. But there has been progress too. We are, Mr president,
much further forward than the last time you were here. And we
will keep moving forward. And I say this to those who are crossing
the bridge from terror to democracy. Every move you make towards
peace, I welcome. Every pledge you make to peace, I will hold
you to it. And as first minister, I will work with anyone who
has the interests of peace at heart. I will be frank. I will
try to be firm. Each part of the agreement, including decommissioning
must be implemented. But if you take the road of peace and do
so in genuine good faith, you will find me a willing leader in
There is much work to be done. We must
move on. We must reach out and reach beyond where we are now.
We have taken the first steps, we must be brave when we meet the
bad patches in the middle, and keep going no matter what.
Mr president, in this new era, progress
is paramount. Our political and our economic links must continue
to develop. Northern Ireland can become the gateway to Europe.
We have uniquely talented and enthusiastic young people, a government
committed to enterprise, qualities that are second to none.
I say to you and your fellow countrymen
today, as the leader of Northern Ireland, visit here and we will
welcome you, invest here and we will work with you. If they did
not already know it, let the rest of the world take note, Northern
Ireland is back in business.
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