Obama says ‘clenched fist’ in North has given way to the ‘open hand’
President says peace process is ‘extraordinary’ and calls for an end to segregation
“You have to remind us of hope again and again, despite tragedy and hardship. You have to remind us of the future.”
Mr Obama urged young people to overcome barriers and defend the peace process.
“When you peace is attacked you have to decide to respond with the same bravery you have shown so far or succumb to impulses which keep this great land divided for far too long.”
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“You should know than as you move forward America will stand by you. We will keep working to strengthen our economies. Job and opportunities are essential to peace.”
He said he was confident young people “will stick to that course” and added that the US would always be “a wind on your back”.
Earlier, Mr Obama referred to his visit to Dublin and to Moneygall, Co Offaly, and said he wished he had known of Irish ancestry when he first ran for office in Chicago.
“It pays to be Irish in Chicago,” he quipped.
He said he met his eight cousin recently - “Or Henry the Eighth as he is known”.
“It was a magical visit but all too short. We have been eager to return to the Emerald Isle and to bring our daughters too.”
He expressed regret that he would not have time for a round of golf and mentioned that when he met Rory McIlroy last year, the golfer observed that the president’s swing needed work.
Tens of millions of Americans share a link with this country, he said, referencing the significant Ulster connection with the US since 1776.
He said US core beliefs were based on Irish qualities: “Perseverance, faith and unshakeable dream that something better lies around the bend.”
People could not have imagined that you would host a major world conference, he said and he personally thanked PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott for security.
Mr Obama paid tribute to Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers and ministers from the Stormont Executive during a speech at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
After his speech the president and the first lady spent a few minutes shaking hands with young people in the audience as Irish traditional music played on uilleann pipes filled the hall.
The presidential party is now travelling to Co Fermanagh for the opening of the G8 summit.
British prime minister Cameron is already there and the two are rumoured to have included a joint appearance in Enniskillen later today.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was the first world leader to arrive, he is understood to be at the Lough Erne resort already.