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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1999
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AT SPEAKER'S LUNCHEON
                            U.S. Capitol

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd like to say, first of all, Mr. Speaker, thank you for inviting us here, for a wonderful lunch. We welcome all of our friends from Northern Ireland and the Republic -- welcome them home.

Father, we thank you for your invocation, and for the plug for the town of my roots. You should know that after -- I'm convinced that the Chamber of Commerce there encouraged this, because after the invocation he came over to me and said, now, don't you ever come back to Ireland without going there. (Laughter.) So I thank you.

Taoiseach, Secretary Albright, Secretary Daley, and to all the members of Congress. I congratulate Senator Kennedy on his award from the American Ireland Fund. (Applause.)

The Speaker said something I'd like to pick up on. You know, normally, at this time of year, for the last several years, John -- David -- Gerry -- Seamus; somebody's come here and thanked some American for supporting the Irish peace process. But the truth is that we should all be thanking you, because it's only when you come here that you bring us all together. (Laughter.) -- add to that, to your citation. (Laughter.) But we're very grateful.

Let me also say that we look forward to the day when this will be a total celebration. What a different year we had this year, Taoiseach, because of the Good Friday Accords. We're grateful that Senator Mitchell was able to take the -- (inaudible) -- all you have done. We know not only in Ireland, but, indeed, in other places, that the closer you get to peace, the more desperate the enemies of peace become. And we have seen the tragedy of the Omagh bombing. We have seen the tragedy of the murder of Rosemary Nelson. We just had another loss last night -- (inaudible.)

This is perfectly predictable. It happened in the Middle East. I've seen it happen all over the world. Whenever people in responsible positions stick their necks out, there's always someone who knows the best way to rekindle a sense of mistrust necessary to destroy the peace is to kill someone and focus on violence.

Your presence here today is a strong commitment to the peace process and therefore gratefully noted. And all I have to say is, I think I can speak for every member of Congress in this room without regard to party, for every member of our administration -- you know that we feel, Taoiseach, almost an overwhelming and inexpressible bond to the Irish people. We want to help all of you succeed. It probably seems meddlesome sometimes, but we look forward to the day when Irish children will look at The Troubles as if they were some part of mystic Celtic folklore, and all of us who were alive during that period will seem like relics of a bygone history.

We hope we can help you to achieve that. And believe me, all of us are quite mindful that it is much harder for you -- every one of you here in this room who have been a part of this than it is for us. We don't mean to meddle, but we do want to help.

And we've had a lot of great Speakers of the House who were Irish: McCormack, O'Neill, Foley. I think we ought to rename the Speaker O'Hastert after -- (laughter) -- his words today, because they were right on point. So you know that across all the gulfs of American politics, we join in welcoming all of our Irish friends.

And right now, I'll ask Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to take the floor and give us a few remarks. Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)