'No place' for violence in NI - Clinton
There is no place in the new Northern Ireland for violence, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told a press conference at Stormont today.
Flanked by the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, with whom she had conducted a private meeting, Ms Clinton said she was “very distressed” at the news that Alliance MP Naomi Long had received death threats as part of the recent escalation of violence north of the Border.
“I know Naomi and obviously I am very distressed,” she said.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable. However, the violence is also a reminder that although much progress has been made, the hard work of reconciliation [is not over] … there will always be disagreements, people have strong feelings … but the only path forward is a peaceful, democratic one.”
It was “17 years ago this month” since she and her husband Bill, the former US president, had first come to Belfast, “because of the glimmer of peace”. It was the “first time a US president had ever set foot in Northern Ireland” she remembered.
She and Mr Clinton had turned on the Christmas tree lights at Belfast City Hall and “I remember it as if it was yesterday.
“We were looking up at this vast throng of people who had come with all their expectations. There were a lot of fathers carrying children on their shoulders. There was a little girl named Catherine who had lost her father in the Troubles. She said her Christmas wish was that peace and love would last forever.”
Mrs Clinton said “peace takes sacrifices and compromise and vigilance”.
“We have seen violence break out again; I join with all the leaders and citizens who have condemned the recent attacks. There will always be disagreements in democratic societies, but violence is never an acceptable response.”
Elsewhere in her speech, Mrs Clinton said the US was “proud to be a partner [with Ireland] for more than two decades”.
She stressed the importance of economic regeneration and said $530million in assistance had been provided through the International Fund for Ireland. It was not merely a question of “peace but also prosperity,” she said.
She was “very keen on continuing to be of whatever assistance I can to maintain our connection but also to promote economic recovery”.
Welcoming the former first lady, Mr Robinson said Mrs Clinton had “consistently been there to help us … you recognised, as few others did, that the process of peace
lasted beyond getting agreement.
“You provided us with Declan Kelly who did a fantastic job [in promoting investment in Northern Ireland] … we really do appreciate everything you have done, in spite of your very heavy international schedule”.
In his opening remarks, Mr McGuinness said Mrs Clinton had been a “true and wonderful friend to all the people of Ireland” and that, although the media was treating her current visit to Ireland as a farewell, “when we say goodbye to the Clintons, we also say, we’ll see you again soon”.
Mrs Clinton was then presented with a bronze sculpture by Derry artist Maurice Harron, depicting three figures, two women and one man, entitled ‘Agreement’.
The fact that there are two women represents the work Mrs Clinton had done with women all over the world, Mr McGuinness said.
Pronouncing it “beautiful”, Mrs Clinton appeared very pleased with the gift, asking Mr McGuinness to give her the artist’s details afterwards.
Mrs Clinton also visited the Titanic centre in the city and attended a lunch organised by the Worldwide Ireland Funds, which was attended by former first minister Ian Paisley, 1972 Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters and Nobel Peace Prize winners John Hume and David Trimble.