THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Belfast, Northern Ireland) _________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 30, 1995
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY AT THE LIGHTING OF THE CITY CHRISTMAS TREE
Belfast City Hall Belfast, Northern Ireland
7:36 P.M. (L)
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, Lord Mayor. And thank all of you. (Applause.) Tonight is a night filled with hope and peace. And for those of us gathered here throughout Northern Ireland and around the world, often it is our children who offer us the clearest and purest reasons why peace and why this peace process is so important.
In a national competition, asking students to share their hopes for a peaceful Northern Ireland in letters to my husband, two students whom you see here tonight, Cathy Harte and Mark Lennox won the top prize. We will be privilege to have them in America at summer camp this coming summer. Tonight it is my privilege to read excerpts from their letters.
This is what Cathy said: "My name is Cathy Harte and I am a 12-year-old Catholic girl. I live in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and I love it here. It's green, it's beautiful, and, well, it's Ireland." (Applause.) "All my life, I have only known guns and bombs with people fighting. Now, it is different. There are no guns and bombs."
Cathy continues: "My dream's for the future, well, I have a lot of them. Hopefully, the peace will be permanent; that one day Catholics and Protestants will be able to walk hand-in-hand and will be able to live in the same areas." (Applause.) "Catholics, Protestants, black or white, it is the person inside that counts." (Applause.) "What I hope," said Cathy, "is that when I have my own children that there will still be peace and that Belfast will be a peaceful place from now on."
Thank you, Cathy. (Applause.)
Mark Lennox is the same age as our daughter, 15. And he explains in his letter the simple hows of achieving peace. And this is what he says: "I am a 15-year-old schoolboy from Glengormley High School. I am very pleased about the chance of permanent peace in Northern Ireland and the chances of living in a secure atmosphere.
"If Northern Ireland is to have a future, then we must all learn to live with each other in a more tolerant way. Also, we must all work hard for peace and make a real effort. We will have to change our ideas and work for change. Change must mean changing our own understanding of each other. We must learn together and know more about our different traditions.
Some people want to destroy peace and the peace process in Northern Ireland." And Mark says, "We must not allow this to happen." (Applause.)
As the Lord Mayor said, in a moment the Christmas tree will be lit as Christmas trees will be lit all over the world in the days to come. This Christmas let us remember the reason behind why we light Christmas trees. Let us remember the reason for this great holiday celebration. And let us remember that we seek peace most of all for our children. May this be one of many, many happy and peaceful Christmases in Northern Ireland this year and for many years to come. (Applause.) And may God keep you and bless you and hold all of you in the palm of His hand. Thank you and God bless you.
LORD MAYOR: Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have a duty to do tonight. And that is we're going to ask the President to turn the lights on. But you and I have something to do. We have to count down, 10 down to zero. So we want the count, 10, 9 -- slowly please, so that when the President gets ready I'll give you the okay and then we will have the countdown.
(The Christmas tree is lit.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) To the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, let me begin by saying to all of you, Hillary and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making us feel so very, very welcome in Belfast and Northern Ireland. (Applause.) We thank you, Lord Mayor, for your cooperation and your help in making this trip so successful, and we trust that, for all of you, we haven't inconvenienced you too much. But this has been a wonderful way for us to begin the Christmas holidays. (Applause.)
Let me also say I understood just what an honor it was to be able to turn on this Christmas tree when I realized the competition. (Laughter.) Now, to become President of the United States you have to undertake some considerable competition. But I have never confronted challengers with the name recognition, the understanding of the media and the ability in the martial arts of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. (Applause.)
To all of you whose support enabled me to join you tonight and turn the Christmas tree on, I give you my heartfelt thanks. (Applause.) I know here in Belfast you've been lighting the Christmas tree for more than 20 years. But this year must be especially joyous to you, for you are entering your second Christmas of peace. (Applause.)
As I look down these beautiful streets, I think how wonderful it will be for people to do their holiday shopping without worry of searches or bombs; to visit loved ones on the other side of the border without the burden of checkpoints or roadblocks; to enjoy these magnificent Christmas lights without any fear of violence. Peace has brought real change to your lives.
Across the ocean, the American people are rejoicing with you. We are joined to you by strong ties of community and commerce and culture. Over the years men and women of both traditions have flourished in our country and helped America to flourish.
And today, of course, we are forging new and special bonds. Belfast's sister city in the United States, Nashville, Tennessee, was proud to send this Christmas tree to friends across the Atlantic. I want to thank the most prominent present resident of Nashville, Tennessee, Vice President Al Gore, the Mayor, Phil Bredesen, and the United States Air Force for getting this big tree all the way across the Atlantic to be here with you tonight. (Applause.)
In this 50th anniversary year of the end of World War II, many Americans still remember the warmth the people of Northern Ireland showed them when the army was stationed here under General Eisenhower. The people of Belfast named General Eisenhower an honorary burgess of the city. He viewed that honor, and I quote, "as a token of our common purpose to work together for a better world." That mission endures today. We remain Americans and as people of Northern Ireland, partners for security, partners for prosperity and, most important, partners for peace. (Applause.)
Two years ago, at this very spot, tens of thousands of you took part in a day for peace, as a response to some of the worst violence Northern Ireland had known in recent years. The two morning papers, representing both traditions, sponsored a telephone poll for peace that generated almost 160,000 calls. In the United States, for my fellow Americans who are here, that would be the equivalent of 25 million calls.
The response left no doubt that all across Northern Ireland the desire for peace was becoming a demand. I am honored to announce today that those same two newspapers, the Newsletter and the Irish News, have established the President's Prize, an annual award to those at the grass-roots level who have contributed most to peace and reconciliation. The honorees will travel to the United States to exchange experiences on the issues we share, including community relations and conflict resolution. We have a lot to learn from on another. The President's Prize will underscore that Northern Ireland's two traditions have a common interest in peace.
As you know -- and as the First Lady said -- I have received thousands of letters from school children all over your remarkable land telling me what peace means to them. They poured in from villages and cities, from Catholic and Protestant communities, from mixed schools, primary schools, from schools for children with special needs. All the letters in their own way were truly wonderful for their honesty, their simple wisdom and their passion. Many of the children showed tremendous pride in their homeland, in its beauty and its true nature. I congratulate the winners. They were wonderful and I loved hearing their letters.
But let me tell you about another couple I received. Eleven-year-old Keith from Carrickfergus wrote: "Please tell everyone in America that we're not always fighting here, and that it's only a small number of people who make the trouble." Like many of the children, Keith did not identify himself as Protestant or Catholic, and did not distinguish between the sources of the violence.
So many children told me of loved ones they have lost, of lives disrupted and opportunities forsaken and families forced to move. Yet, they showed remarkable courage and strength and a commitment to overcome the past. As 14-year-old Sharon of County Armagh wrote: "Both sides have been hurt. Both sides must forgive."
Despite the extraordinary hardships so many of these children have faced, their letters were full of hope and love and humor. To all of you who took the time to write me, you've brightened my holiday season with your words of faith and courage, and I thank you. To all of you who asked me to do what I could to help peace take root, I pledge you America's support. We will stand with you as you take risks for peace. (Applause.)
And to all of you who have not lost your sense of humor, I say thank you. I got a letter from 13-year-old Ryan from Belfast. Now, Ryan, if you're out in the crowd tonight, here's the answer to your question. No, as far as I know, an alien spacecraft did not crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. (Laughter.) And, Ryan, if the United States Air Force did recover alien bodies, they didn't tell me about it, either, and I want to know. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, this day that Hillary and I have had here in Belfast and in Derry and Londonderry County will long be with us -- (applause) -- as one of the most remarkable days of our lives. I leave you with these thoughts. May the Christmas spirit of peace and goodwill flourish and grow in you. May you remember the words of the Lord Mayor: "This is Christmas. We celebrate the world in a new way because of the birth of Emmanuel; God with us." And when God was with us, he said no words more important than these: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Earth." (Applause.)
Merry Christmas, and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 7:53 P.M. (L)