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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                           The Roosevelt Room

3:58 P.M. EST

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Thank you, President. On behalf of the government and people of Ireland, it gives me great pleasure to wish you all -- of the distinguished guests here today -- a very Happy St. Patrick's Day; and, President, again, to thank you for the time afforded to me and to my Irish colleagues, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell.

As Taoiseach, I have the privilege to participate in this wonderful ceremony. And no matter how many times I've watched it home in Ireland or been here for the last few years, I think we never fail to be moved by it and by what it symbolizes and the deep bonds between Ireland and the United States.

These bonds go back many centuries, and because America provided the refuge and a livelihood for success of Irish generations and from all traditions, including some of your own ancestors, Mr. President, all traditions in Ireland take enormous pride in the contribution that we've given to this country in building this great nation.

Mr. President, the most important goals for us in Ireland at the present are undoubtedly peace of our islands and a reasonably prosperity for all of our people. On both these goals, the American dimension has proved critical. Mr. President, you and Mrs. Clinton, together with your administration, have closely bound up with the quest for peace in Ireland, for which our country is indeed in abiding gratitude.

The Good Friday Agreement, which we've spent so much time talking about these days, envisions from an area of conflict, Northern Ireland will be transformed into an entity where both traditions will enjoy equal legitimacy and equal treatment, not just in theory, but in the daily lives of people who belong to them.

It set out the institutions to give practical expression to the new relationships and equality and mutual respect within Northern Ireland between North and South and within the two islands. The agreement, as I said last night, was endorsed by very strong support in the referendums. And inevitably, perhaps, in dealing with a conflict as deep and as old as this, we've encountered difficulty in the implementation of the agreements. I want to thank you today for the chance for us to discuss those matters and to see how we can try to resolve them in the weeks ahead.

From one side, the absence of decommissioning puts a doubt over the sincerity of the commitment to the exclusively democratic basis of the agreement. And for the other, the apparent insistence that was the only test that really mattered fed another set of fears that the agreement might be made into a trap rather than an honorable accommodation.

We have renewed the process of dialogue in which your personal involvement is continued here today in the White House. Already, we find there is a widespread common ground on the need to restore the institutions as soon as possible. There's common ground, also, in the need to ensure that these institutions operate at all times on an exclusively democratic basis with no influence admissible from the threat or use of violence. We must create the confidence to find a way of doing this.

Mr. President, St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate to the ancient Irish the creative harmony between unity and diversity, and the message that diversity is a powerful asset rather than a threat has been an eloquent and forceful theme of your presidency.

I'm grateful to you, Mr. President, for all that you have done over all of these years to assist the peace process. During that time, there have been many heart-warming breakthroughs and heart-breaking setbacks occasionally, heart-wearying periods of paralysis. You've been through them all with us, and we're grateful for that.

However, we know that we have come an enormous distance in the period that you've stood with us, and we thank you for it. And for all of that, Mr. President, you have and will always retain the grateful thanks of all the people of Ireland, North and South, happily symbolized in this gift of shamrock, which we're honored to bring to you today. Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for the time afforded to us once again this afternoon. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Taoiseach, for your words and your leadership, for the shamrocks and the beautiful Irish crystal. Upstairs in our residence, there is so much Irish crystal now that sometimes I have guests from other countries that ask me if I've ever been anywhere but Ireland. (Laughter.) But I will treasure this always.

I don't suppose the saints in Heaven spend time boasting about their earthly achievements, but if they do, I imagine the other saints can bear no more bragging from St. Patrick; for no nation has ever lived up more fully to the virtues of its patron saint than has Ireland.

St. Patrick has been described as one of the great saints of the downtrodden and the excluded. The legendary, large-hearted Irish people are famous for reaching out to the world's less fortunate.

Whenever the troubled places of the earth have called out for help, the Irish have answered the call. Always among the first in economic assistance, disaster relief, peacekeeping. Indeed, in the past four decades, there has never been a day, not a single day, that Irish troops have not stood watch for peace on some distant shore.

All of you have paid a price for this, like all of Ireland. I was saddened by the recent deaths of four young Irish soldiers serving with the United Nations in Lebanon. As Ireland has committed itself to the cause of peace around the world, it is right that the world, and especially the United States, should commit ourselves to the cause of peace in Ireland.

I repeat today the promise I made in Dublin four years ago: America will be with you as you walk the road to peace. We are conscious that Ireland, along with the other parties to the Good Friday Accord made fundamental and principled compromises in the effort to secure a lasting peace. That agreement remains the very best hope we have ever had for achieving peace, and I still believe it will succeed.

And the model of the Good Friday Accord represents not just hope for Northern Ireland, but hope for so many stricken areas all across the earth, now suffering from sectarian violence. As extraordinary as Ireland's record is in exporting peace and peacekeepers to troubled areas of the earth, nothing will compare to the gift Ireland gives the world if you can make your own peace permanent and meet the urgent need of the world for proof that a path to peace can be found.

In the sixth year of St. Patrick's enslavement, he was awakened by a mysterious voice that said: Your hungers are rewarded, you are going home. Look, your ship is ready.

His fateful response to depart immediately and seek his destiny set in motion his vocation to study, to learn and then return to Ireland, to bring faith and peace. By the persuasive force of the spirit, he began to change the warring traditions of the Irish tribes. But his accomplishments, great as they are, remain after all these centuries incomplete.

And so, I say to you, Taoiseach, your ship is ready. In the smiling eyes of the Irish child, you have all the cause you will ever need to intensify the search for peace. I hope all the leaders and people of Ireland will follow your lead. I hope all those in Northern Ireland, especially, will heed this call. We must fulfill the pastoral mission of St. Patrick. Nothing is more fitting on this St. Patrick's Day. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 4:07 P.M. EST