Text of Edward Kennedy Speech, 9 January 1998
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"NORTHERN IRELAND - A VIEW FROM AMERICA,"
UNIVERSITY OF ULSTER, MAGEE COLLEGE, INCORE
DERRY, NORTHERN IRELAND
JANUARY 9, 1998
"I want to thank Professor Lord Smith
and the University of Ulster's Initiative on Conflict Resolution
and Ethnicity, the home of the Tip O'Neill Chair in Peace Studies
and the Tip O'Neill Fellowship, for inviting me here today. Let
me also thank the Deputy Mayor, Joe Miller and everyone at Derry
City Council for welcoming me to this beautiful city. I'm grateful
to Dr. Maurice Hayes for his generous introduction, and I commend
him and the Ireland Funds for establishing this living memorial
to a great man, a great friend of mine, and a great friend of
I'm especially honored that Mr and Mrs
Restorick and Mr and Mrs McGoldrick have traveled from Peterborough
in England and from Craigavon to take part in this occasion.
In the face of great personal tragedy, these two families refuse
to hate. They honor their sons Stephen and Michael most by their
resolve that no other family shall have to suffer what they endure.
Their lives every day are as eloquent as their words here today.
I'm honored as well that the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, Philip Lader, is with us today.
Ambassador Lader has close personal
and professional ties to President Clinton, and I have great respect for his skill and judgment. He is perhaps best known in America for his ability to bring
people together, and he's an excellent choice to represent President
Clinton here at this auspicious and hopeful time.
And I'm delighted that my sister Jean
is here. My family has a great love for this island from which
we come and which for us will always be a home. Jean visited
Ireland in 1963 with President Kennedy and I know he would be
proud - as all the Kennedys are -- of the extraordinary work she
has done as our Ambassador to Ireland.
A President of Harvard is reported to
have said that the reason universities are such great storehouses
of learning is that every entering student brings a little knowledge
in --- and no graduating student ever takes any knowledge out.
But I'm sure that's not true at the
University of Ulster.
This institution teaches, in many different
ways, the most important lesson of all - that all knowledge is universal and all men
and women are brothers and sisters.
It was here, in the Guildhall, in November
1995 that President Clinton inaugurated the Tip O'Neill Chair
in Peace Studies. As he said on that occasion, "Peace is
really the work of a lifetime."
In that spirit, I come here to give
the Tip O'Neill Memorial Lecture. And it is fitting that I do
so in this place, because Tip's ancestral home on his grandfather
O'Neill's side was just down the road in Buncrana.
Throughout Tip's life, Ireland was one
of his greatest loves. His Irish smile could light up a living
room, the whole chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives,
and the whole State of Massachusetts.
One of Tip's most famous stories was
about a gift by Henry Ford to help build a new hospital in Ireland.
His gift was $5,000, but a local newspaper the next day reported
that it was $50,000. The editor apologized profusely for the
mistake, and said he'd run a correction right away, explaining
that the actual gift was only $5,000. It took Henry Ford about
one second to realize what was happening, and he said, "No,
no, don't run the correction. I"ll give the $50,000, but
on one condition - that you install a plaque over the entrance
to the hospital with this inscription - "I came unto you,
and you took me in."
Tip was scrupulously neutral in the
American presidential campaign of 1980, when I was running for
President against Jimmy Carter. But Tip told me that every night,
before he went to sleep, he was secretly praying that we would
have another Irish President of the United States. The prayer
was a little ambiguous - but Tip's Irish friend Ronald Reagan,
who eventually won that election, was very grateful.
This doesn't quite feel like my first
visit to Derry, since I've known John Hume for so long, and I've
heard him sing "The Town I Love So Well" so many times.
I first met him a quarter century ago,
in the fall of 1972. I was troubled by what had been taking place
here, and people I knew well in Massachusetts told me to get in
touch with him. I was traveling to Germany for a NATO conference
in November of that year. So I called John and he agreed to meet
me in Bonn. We had dinner at the home of Ireland's Ambassador
there, Sean Ronan. When I signed the Ambassador's guest book,
I wrote that I hoped to see him again when there was peace in
Ireland. I see Ambassador Ronan here today, so I'm more hopeful
than ever that lasting peace is finally very close.
In the following years, John Hume came
to Washington often, and we would sit together and talk about
the Troubles. He has been a constant voice of reason, an often
lonely champion of non-violence, a stalwart advocate of peace.
In 1977, because of John, four Irish-American
elected officials - Tip O'Neill, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
of New York, Governor Hugh Carey of New York, and I -- joined
forces to condemn the support for violence that was coming from
the United States, and to insist that dollars from America must
never be used to kill innocent men and women and children in Northern
Ireland. And so the Four Horsemen were born, and over the years,
we acted together on many occasions to do what we could to advance
a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Forty-four million Americans are of
Irish descent. It is no accident that America has an abiding
interest in the island of Ireland -- and in the current generation,
an abiding commitment to peace and justice in Northern Ireland.
Over the years, we have welcomed many leaders of Northern Ireland
-- from politics, business, churches and communities. We have
listened to all and tried to be a friend to all.
When President Clinton took office in
1993, it was clear that America had a President who would go the
extra mile for peace -- and an opportunity soon arose. In December
1993, the Irish and British Governments issued their Downing Street
Declaration, which gave birth to the current peace initiative.
Soon thereafter, President Clinton was faced with a critical
decision whether the goal of ending the violence would be enhanced
by granting a visa for Gerry Adams to visit the United States.
I had been receiving reports for several months from a delegation
led by journalist Niall O'Dowd that the IRA was serious about
silencing the guns. My sister Jean had heard the same reports.
John Hume and Jean both said that a
visit by Gerry Adams to the United States could be very important
in achieving a ceasefire by the IRA. So I and others in Congress
urged President Clinton to act favorably. He made the bold and
courageous decision to grant the visa, despite advice from some
quarters in Congress and the Administration that he should deny
it. The visa was given, the ceasefire followed, and a new and
hopeful period in the history of Northern Ireland was born.
Since then, there have been setbacks
along the way. But America's interest has not faltered, and President
Clinton. has provided continuing encouragement. His visit to
this island in November and December of 1995 was a powerful demonstration
that America cares about peace - and the outpouring of affection
that greeted him from Protestants and Catholics alike was an unmistakable
sign to political leaders on both sides that peace was the people's
Today, we stand at a defining moment
in the modem epic of this land. The talks that are about, to
resume offer both a challenge and an opportunity. In the coming
crucial weeks, the parties will determine whether this is a genuine
way forward, or just another failed station on the way of sorrows.
To Nationalists who have suffered decades
of injustice and discrimination, I say "Look how far you've
come". One need only look around to see the success of the
Nationalist community - what John Hume has done for the peace
process and for new investment in Derry . - what Seamus Heaney,
Seamus Deane, Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness, and Phil Coulter
have done for the spirit of Ireland -- North and South. Ireland
has its first ever President from Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams
and other Sinn Fein leaders have been to Downing Street. You
have come so far. Have faith in yourselves and in the future.
And to Unionists who often feel afraid
of what the future may bring, I recall that you are descendants
of the pioneers who helped build America and now you can be the
pioneers who build a better future for this island.
Everyone is well aware of the numerous
contributions of Irish immigrants -- mostly Catholic - who came
to America in the 19th century, fleeing famine. Many of those
famine ships left from Derry. But it is often forgotten that
more than half of the 44 million Americans of Irish descent today
Most of that Protestant immigration
came in the 1700's and early 1800's. As far back as the late
1600's, persecution of Scottish Presbyterians led many to leave
Ulster and seek religious freedom in the American colonies. The
father of American Presbyterianism was born only a few miles from here. Magee College, our
host today, was in fact a training college for Irish Presbyterianism.
Historically, the very hallmark of that faith is respect for
differences. The Presbyterian tradition helped endow America
with that respect. It is one of our greatest strengths. That
same basic value - respect for differences - is now the key to
a better future here as well.
The impact on America of Scotch-Irish
settlers from what is today Northern Ireland was profound. Large
numbers joined our fight for independence. Five signed the Declaration
of Independence. John Dunlap of Strabane printed the Declaration,
and also established the first daily newspaper in America.
In the years that followed America's
independence, these settlers were instrumental in founding the
Democratic Party in the United States. They helped assure the
election of two of our greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and
Jackson himself was of Ulster Presbyterian
stock and proud of it. As he said on a visit to Boston in 1833,
"I have always been proud of my ancestry and of being descended
from that noble race. Would to God, Sir, that Irishmen on the
other side of the great water enjoyed the comforts, happiness,
contentment and liberty that they enjoy here."
Eleven other Presidents of the United
States were of Scotch-Irish heritage, including President Clinton.
In ways such as these, Protestants of
Irish descent have made indispensable contributions to America
as a land of freedom and opportunity for all. You are part of
our heritage and history. We are brothers and sisters, not enemies.
The vast - vast - majority of Irish Catholics in America bear
you no ill will. Our hope is that as your ancestors did for America,
you will lead the way to peace and justice for Northern Ireland.
It is an apt coincidence that the goal
for the peace talks is to reach a successful conclusion in this
year that marks the two hundredth anniversary of the United Irishmen
Rebellion of 1798. As 1998 begins, we can all salute the idealism
and courage of those leaders two centuries ago Catholics, Presbyterians,
and Anglicans as one. Their brave doomed uprising took its immediate
inspiration from the French Revolution and its call for liberty,
equality, and fraternity. But Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson, Thomas
Russell, William Drennan and other members of the United Irishmen
were also well aware of the Irish role in the American Revolution.
For some, the United Irishmen will be
remembered primarily as courageous and independent-minded ancestors.
Others will celebrate the political philosophy they created.
The point is that all traditions can draw current inspiration
from the vision that guided their struggle. They believed that
the different traditions in Ireland were not destined to be enemies,
but had a profound shared interest in championing and guarding
each others' rights.
So I hope that the participants in the
current all-important talks can draw inspiration from all these
streams of our common heritage, and succeed in devising new arrangements
for this land that will at last give true effect to our shared
Many people have already taken risks
for peace. John Hume laid the groundwork over many years for
the current progress, and is one of the shining apostles of non-violence
in our century. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Impressively
led the way to the IRA cease-fire of 1994 and its restoration
last summer. David Trimble demonstrated genuine leadership in
bringing the Ulster Unionist Party to the peace table. John Alderdice
deserves credit for his efforts to bridge the gap between the
two communities. The representatives of the Loyalist paramilitaries -- David Ervine, Gary
McMichael and others -- helped achieve the Loyalist cease-fire and have made ceaseless efforts to maintain it. The Women's
Coalition deserves admiration and support for participating and
persevering - and for demonstrating anew the rightful place of
women at the highest level of politics.
The Governments of Bertie Ahern and
Tony Blair have carried the process forward with skill and wisdom.
Mo Mowlam is tireless in her commitment. George Mitchell's transatlantic
shuttle diplomacy is America's special gift to the peace process
- living daily proof that the United States not only cares, but
can be scrupulously even-handed too. John de Chastelain and Harri
Holkeri deserve credit for their leadership and patience. And
numerous others -- church leaders such as Father Alex Reid and
Reverend Roy Magee - community workers such as Geraldine McAteer
and Jackie Redpath -- have worked hard and well at building bridges.
Above all, the people of Northern Ireland
deserve credit for never giving up their dreams of peace, and
for constantly reminding political leaders of their responsibility
to achieve it. As Yeats wrote, "In dreams begins responsibility."
There are some who seek to wreck the
peace process. They are blinded by fear of a future they cannot
imagine - a future in which respect for differences is a healing
and unifying force. They are driven by an anger that holds no
respect for life - even for the lives of children.
But a new spirit of hope is gaining
momentum. It can banish the fear that blinds. It can conquer
the anger that fuels the merchants of violence. We are building
an irresistible force that can make the immovable object move.
In 1968, at a time of unconscionable
violence in America, my brother Robert Kennedy spoke of the dream of peace and an end
to conflict, in words that summon us all to action now:
It is not my plan or place to address
the details of the talks - that is for the participants. But
comments from observers may prove useful as a source of perspective
and reflection, as a way to dispel distortions and misunderstandings
and to create possibilities for peace - and above all, to demonstrate
as powerfully as we can that America truly cares.
Irish Americans are anything but indifferent
to what is happening. We have a long enduring desire to see peace
and prosperity take root here. Our commitment embraces the welfare
of all the people of Northern Ireland - and when we say "all,"
we mean all.
Whoever we are, wherever we come from,
whatever our differences - there is one self-evident, fundamental,
enduring truth. There must be no return to violence. Killing
produces only more killing. Endless, escalating cycles of death
and devastation have -brought unspeakable human tragedy, deeper
division between and within the two great traditions, and painful
stagnation and failed prosperity for Northern Ireland.
It does not have to be that way. Addressing
the Irish Parliament in 1963, President Kennedy quoted the famous
words of George Bernard Shaw: "Some people see things as
they are and say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were, and
I say, 'Why not?"' May those words inspire the search for
The present must learn from the past.
As the Joint Declaration states: "the lessons of Irish history,
and especially of Northern Ireland, show that stability and well-being
will not be found under any political system which is refused
allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant
minority of those governed by it." ,
Equality and mutual respect are
the twin pillars of peace. It is clear that the Nationalist community will never accept a role of
subservience to Unionism. And the Unionist community will never accept a role of subservience to Nationalism.
The obvious and inescapable conclusion
is that these two traditions can find a stable relationship only
on a basis of equality and mutual respect. A successful outcome
must mean no second-class citizens on this island, and no second-class
The peace process does not mean asking
Unionists or Nationalists to change or discard their identity
and aspirations. It means using democratic methods, not bombs
and bullets, to resolve the inevitable differences and tensions
However far into the future, whatever
the color of the flags, there will be two communities, each with its' own character and its
own pride, sharing this beautiful piece of earth.
The heritage of America offers a hope
and a lesson. The motto of America - to which John Hume has often
referred - is the Latin phrase "e pluribus unum' - out of
many, one - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The
diversity of America is America's greatest strength, and the diversity
here can be your greatest strength as well.
As you travel the road together, the
choice is whether it will be as wary adversaries forever fearful
of each other, or as friends and neighbors who agree on fair rules
for the journey ahead willing to meet and master fateful challenges
At its core, the conflict is about
each side cherishing its noble ideals, and fearing the other may damage or destroy them.
If the true goal for each side is the
protection of its rights and aspirations, rather than the denial
of the rights and aspirations of the other, then surely there
is a high and common ground. Protecting the rights of both sides,
based on principles of equality and mutual respect, is the surest
path -- perhaps the only path - to peace.
I appeal to the talks participants to
ask nothing for their own side they are not prepared to grant
to the other - and to ask nothing from the other side they would
not accept for their own. Let us make that principle the Golden
Rule for the road to peace -- to do unto others as we would have
them do unto us.
I urge everyone involved in the peace
process to approach the talks with a view to giving as much as
they can, rather than as little as they think they can get away
with. In the words of Seamus Heaney, you must "walk on air,
against your better judgment."
As we come to a new century, the three
basic relationships -- within the North, between North and South,
and between Britain and Ireland - can be transformed. Hatred
and injustice can be replaced with respect and equality.
Taking full advantage of this unique
opportunity will bring lasting peace, and a genuine place in history for all those who make it happen. Failure to grass this opportunity will be devastating. History will harshly
judge any who fail the test and waste the decisive moment.
I particularly encourage the young people
of this island to become involved in the work for peace. For
it is you -- even more than your parents and your grandparents
-- who have the most to gain, and the most to lose.
As you extend yourselves to reach agreement,
the United States will exert itself to build more bridges. Personal
bridges. Political bridges. Economic bridges. And be assured,
I will do all in my power to see that the U.S. assumes a central
role in providing economic assistance to implement the agreement
that is reached.
In the closing pages of the Iliad,
Priam, the elderly king of Troy, goes to Achilles to beg for the
return of his son Hector, whom Achilles has slain in the war.
Achilles, in an act of simple humanity, gives the old man the
body of his son.
The last lines of Michael Longley's
eloquent poem "Ceasefire" draw an analogy with Northern
Ireland. Priam speaks these words:
And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son."
The two communities in Northern Ireland
must reach out and do what must be done - and join hands across
centuries and chasms of killing and pain.
And there is great pain in both communities.
Families - Protestant and Catholic - have been denied the bodies
of loved ones to bury. Families -- Like those whose loved ones
were killed on Bloody Sunday - have been denied the truth. Families
- like those whose loved ones died at Enniskillen -have been denied
justice. Families - enduring generations of unemployment - have
been denied opportunity. Families - harassed by security forces
- have been denied dignity. Families - victims of punishment
beatings - have been denied justice. Children - Catholic and
Protestant - have been denied their future. It is time to say
enough is enough is enough is enough. It is time to replace hate
My prayer today is that individuals,
families, and political, religious, business, educational and
community leaders across Northern Ireland will show the forgiveness
and compassion and humanity that John and Rita Restorick showed
-- that Gordon Wilson showed - that Joyce McCartan showed that
Michael and Bride McGoldrick showed - that everyone must show.
Like so many of you here, my family
has been touched by tragedy. I know that the feelings of grief
and loss are immediate - and they are enduring. The best way
to ease these feelings is to forgive, and to carry on - not to
lash out in fury, but to reach out in trust and hope.
So in closing, let me share with you
a letter my father wrote in 1958 to a friend whose son had died.
Fourteen years earlier, my oldest brother Joe had been killed
in World War II. Ten years earlier, my oldest sister Kathleen
had been killed in an airplane crash. My father wrote to his
Too many lives of too many sons and
daughters of this land have been cut short. We must dedicate
ourselves to accomplish for them what many "did not have
time enough to do" - a lasting peace for Northern Ireland.
Thank you, and may God bless the work ahead."
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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