McAleese hails NI transformation


President Mary McAleese today paid tribute to former paramilitaries who have worked to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Mrs McAleese told the Rimini Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples in Italy she was inspired by the power of ordinary people to change history through their daily lives and what they say and do.

She revealed that over her 13 years as President of Ireland she has been privileged to witness many changes of heart that bordered on the miraculous.

“None more so than the positive peace-building roles being played by former paramilitaries,” she said.

“They generally come from marginalised communities which suffered most during the violence and which feel a deep sense of exclusion and victimhood.

“Yet some of the most radical cross-community initiatives are coming from those very individuals as they work to ensure that their people feel the full benefit of peace.”

The president delivered the opening address at the annual summer festival in Rimini, Italy, which brings people of different faiths and cultures together.

An average 100,000 people are expected to attend daily.

She followed in the footsteps of several distinguished people who previously addressed the meeting, including Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Dalai Lama, Lech Walesa and Tony Blair.

Mrs McAleese said the people of contemporary Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain made an honourable effort in the Belfast Agreement of 1998 to “move beyond the self-repeating cycle of history’s accumulated hurts”.

“However, for all the ups and downs, false starts and setbacks, the structures of the Good Friday Agreement, including the power-sharing government between old enemies in Northern Ireland are proving, like the European Union, to be infinitely more hope-filled and successful than anything which preceded them,” she added.