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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 18, 1999



As we approach the first anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we can all take heart at how far we have come in a year.

The Agreement has provided the basis for the two traditions to work together, both in Northern Ireland and on the island as a whole, for the first time in 200 years. Democratically endorsed by an emphatic majority of people in both the North and the South, it gives a unique opportunity for peace and reconciliation in which all the signatories can take pride. It has rightly been acknowledged as an example to the rest of the world of how dialogue can bring an end to conflict.

Much progress has been made in implementing the Agreement. The basis for a new partnership government in Northern Ireland has been agreed. Elections have been held. Last week, the Irish and British Governments signed treaties providing for the establishment of North/South implementation bodies, a North/South Ministerial council, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. With these treaties, arrangements have been finalized for institutions which will provide for a new level of cooperation and partnership. This will bring real, practical benefits to everyone concerned.

Implementation of the provisions of the Agreement, ensuring that the future is based on full respect for equality and freedom from discrimination for all, is also well advanced. The review of the criminal justice system is well under way, as is the work of the commission examining the key area of policing.

The balanced constitutional accommodation set out in the Agreement, based on consent, is ready to become operational. The solemn commitment that the future will be shaped by exclusively democratic and peaceful means, provides the framework within which the new institutions can work and enjoy the confidence of all sides.

Large numbers of prisoners have been released on both sides of the border. That is an essential part of the Agreement, although one that has caused undoubted pain to those who have lost loved ones during the years of conflict. The ceasefires remain solid. General de Chastelain continues his vital work to achieve progress on decommissioning.

There is much work still to be done to implement all aspects of the Agreement. But the substantial progress already achieved gives us hope for the future.

Despite the progress, Omagh demonstrated that the peace has not been a perfect peace. The cruel and senseless murder of Rosemary Nelson is a further reminder. But the response to Omagh showed that, despite the pain, there is deep determination in both the North and the South that peace is the only path. We call for an end to all the killings and punishment beatings. Violence of the kind we have seen again this week must not be allowed to unsettle the peace process.

The Agreement endorsed by the people last May must be implemented in all its aspects and the remaining difficulties must be resolved.

We, as leaders, bear that responsibility and that means all of us, whether we live in Northern Ireland, the Republic, Britain, or the United States.

This is what the people want and we must not fail them.

A year ago, people said it was hopeless, that the sides were too far apart. But the people and political parties in Northern Ireland proved them wrong. We all persevered. People compromised. People showed courage.

One year on, we can meet the deadline that has been set. More courage will be needed. But we are nearly there.

The prize is very great indeed and it is now in sight. We have come too far to go back now. Let us finish the task between now and Good Friday.