President praises role of Nobel Prize in peace process


PRESIDENT MARY McAleese acknowledged the contribution the Nobel Peace Prize has made to the peace process in Northern Ireland during a keynote address at the Nobel Institute in Oslo yesterday.

Speaking on the second day of her three-day visit to Norway, Mrs McAleese said: "Over the past four decades, five peacemakers from the island of Ireland have been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize: Seán MacBride, Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams, John Hume and David Trimble."

"Our difficult road to peace is one this institute knows well for you have been observers of our progress and important encouragers of those committed to peace," she said.

Mrs McAleese went on to describe the experience of peace-making in Northern Ireland, admitting that while "our path to peace is not a roadmap which is instantly applicable to other conflicts" the experience there has taught many lessons which can be used elsewhere to build peace.

"We'd like to share our wisdom," she said, adding that, greatly inspired by Norway, the Government had decided to establish a conflict resolution centre which would "make a contribution to peace building in other parts of the world".

Mrs McAleese spoke passionately about the fact that the Irish peace process is ongoing, but that what had been achieved so far was "utterly miraculous".

"Peace is very young and we need to understand its fragility and the need to nurture it, " she said.

Jan Egeland, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, which co-hosted the event with the Nobel Institute, described Mrs McAleese's speech as "very comprehensive and very uplifting".

Mrs McAleese said that there was no going back, that the path to peace was "a ramp to be climbed" and that she feels "very optimistic about the attitude of hope and confidence" she now sees in the people of the North.

"I remain confident that solutions to outstanding issues can be found which, as the process requires, will work for everybody," she said in her speech.

Mrs McAleese also paid tribute to this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari , calling him "a quiet unassuming champion of peace" who made a huge contribution to Northern Ireland's search for peace. Mr Ahtisaari was an arms inspector during the peace process.

Earlier yesterday, Norway's king and queen accompanied Mrs McAleese on a visit to the Celtic studies department of Oslo University, where 26 students study Irish as part of their degrees.

Before this, she spoke at a business breakfast, where she emphasised the importance of mutual trade between Norway and Ireland worth €2 billion.

The President is due to leave Oslo today for Trondheim before returning to Ireland this evening.