Remarks With Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. Well, I am very pleased to be here this afternoon with two men who have really proven what leadership means and demonstrated clearly courage and commitment: First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
I want to begin by saying how pleased I am personally to welcome them here. I have known Peter and Martin for a number of years and have seen them take responsibility for the future of the people of Northern Ireland in a way that has inspired confidence and created a real opportunity for people not only in the United States, but around the world to look to Northern Ireland and to see the progress there. Of course, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and they are here on this occasion, but they are no strangers to either Washington or the State Department. And I know how important our relationship is to continue to support those who work for peace.
In addition to the discussion that I just concluded with the first minister and the deputy first minister, I have had excellent conversations with others as well who you have seen starting yesterday and continuing through today.
Northern Ireland has made such remarkable progress since the signing of the Good Friday Accord. We’ve had more than a decade of peace and progress and prosperity for many. Recent acts of violence cannot be allowed to undermine that progress and the progress that is yet to come as these two leaders and those who work with them continue to move into the future. The violence that has occurred with the killing of the two young soldiers and the police officer are an affront to the values of every community, every person who believes in the power of peace and reconciliation.
The two men standing on either side of me led Northern Ireland through the last days in a commendable manner. Along with the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, they have confronted these acts of violence with boldness and statesmanship. And they have responded to actions intended to sow fear and division with unity and courage.
So we are here after ten years of peace, and we’re committed to looking forward to a future where we, the United States, working with them, can create a better life so that every child growing up in Northern Ireland has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.
The State Department and the Obama Administration will be actively engaged in assisting the leadership of Northern Ireland. And this is not a subject of passing interest, but of surpassing interest. During my time as First Lady, during my time as senator from New York, I have been privileged to see the people of Northern Ireland move in a direction that has given so much hope to so many, including those far beyond their own boundaries.
So I want to thank the first minister and the deputy first minister, and now let me turn to the first minister for any comments he wishes to make.
FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Thank you very much. At the very outset, I want to express my appreciation and the appreciation of all of the people of Northern Ireland to Secretary Clinton. Hillary has been a good friend of Northern Ireland, a great friend of the process in which we have been involved. We were delighted to hear in our meeting which has just concluded that that is going to be an ongoing interest. We’re looking for excuses to bring her to Northern Ireland, and we’re delighted to hear that the Obama Administration is looking to bring an envoy to continue to partner with us, and indeed to have a particular emphasis with someone looking after the issue of the economy.
The deputy first minister and I have had a difficult period of time. I think that anybody who has followed recent events will know that there was a single purpose on the part of those who carried out those dreadful acts. They intended to divide us. They intended to drag Northern Ireland back into conflict. Their hopes were that the work of the politicians in the assembly and in the executive would begin to fray and that the institutions would crumble and fall.
They have not succeeded, and they will not succeed. There is a massive determination, not just on the part of the deputy first minister and myself, but I was delighted to see it from every single political party. There was no party political bickering on the issue. Every politician stepped up to the line and made it clear their denunciation of the incidents and also their determination that they were not going back.
It is that determination not simply not to go back or to stand still, but to drive us forward, to complete the tasks that we have set our hand to, and to bring Northern Ireland to that place where it has a stable political and economic future, where prosperity is a daily diet of our people. It is that hope that drives us forward, and it is that hope that I believe we have the full support of the people of Northern Ireland in realizing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much.
DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: Well, if I could say that it’s an incredible good fortune for all of us on the island of Ireland and the north that Hillary Clinton has been appointed the new Secretary of State. She has for many, many years, alongside her husband, been a true friend of all of us, a true friend of the peace process, contributing tremendously to the transformation that has taken place over the course of the last number of years. And what has been really encouraging about this visit and the meeting that we’ve just come from is that it’s quite clear that she is surrounded by people who have a tremendous insight into our situation, going back many, many years. I find that tremendously encouraging, and we’re excited about our meeting with President Obama this morning and the things we heard from him and his reiteration of his commitment to help us within the process, continuing, I must say, a long line of important contributions from the United States of America.
And what we’ve heard just now in the course of our meeting with Secretary Clinton further encourages us that we will see the appointment of an envoy who will make their own particular contribution, also following in a long line of envoys who have been tremendously supportive for all of us.
And we talked about the economy because we believe that economic development is of critical importance, and our program for government identified the development of the economy as a key priority for all of us. And there has been a long tradition of American companies investing on the island of Ireland and in the north of Ireland, and our visit here and the West Coast, and we’ve been to Los Angeles, Peter’s been to Chicago, I’ve been to New York, and we’re now in Washington. Everywhere we went, it was quite clear that people were very tuned in to what had happened in our country and indeed at the time of those incidents were very shocked that it did happen.
But that shock quickly gave way to a bigger story, and the bigger story was the unity which Peter has just spoken about, not just between himself and myself, but between all of the parties recognizing that this represented a real challenge to our process by people who are dedicated to destroy the peace process, dedicated to the demolition of the political institutions, and absolutely dedicated to plunging our community. And we don’t speak about two communities. We represent – although we represent different parties, we represent one community in the north of Ireland, and we are not going to allow our community to be plunged into mayhem and destruction by people who have no support, no mandate whatsoever, and no right whatsoever to attack the peace that the people of Ireland as a whole and in the north voted for in the referendum in the aftermath of the Good Friday upheaval.
So I’m actually moving forward on all of this with tremendous confidence about the future, confidence in that we are united, that we are supported by the Irish Government and the British Government, and by a very strong Administration here in the United States of America led by President Obama and Hillary Clinton. So we will leave Washington incredibly buoyed up by the encouragement and support that we’ve received here, and I want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to you, Hillary, and to President Obama and all those in all of the political parties on Capitol Hill who have stood by us through thick and thin.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there are predictions of really catastrophic conditions in Darfur because of the president of Sudan’s expulsion of aid groups and apparent intention to shut them down completely. And I’m wondering what can the international community do about this. Will this in any way speed the appointment of another special envoy, a U.S. envoy to Sudan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have been deeply engaged in determining what we can do, because this is a horrendous situation that is going to cause untold misery and suffering for the people of Darfur, particularly those in the refugee camps. There will be a special envoy appointed for Sudan in the coming days. But the real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps, because by their expulsion of the aid workers, who came from all over the world to assist with the health and the sanitation and the security and the education of the refugees, they are putting those 1.4 million lives at risk.
And for those governments that support President Bashir’s decision to expel the aid workers, they have a responsibility to persuade the government in Sudan to change its decision to let the aid workers back in, or they must replace with money and personnel those who have been expelled, so that innocent lives are not lost and further undermined.
So we take this very seriously. We are looking for the most effective ways to convince and demonstrate to the Government of Sudan that they have now assumed an even greater sense of responsibility and infamy in the eyes of the world by turning their backs on these refugees whom they created in the first place. So we hope that either by the internal processes of the Sudanese Government or pressure brought to bear by the supporters of President Bashir and that government, the decision is reversed, or at the very least, the money and the personnel are replaced.
MODERATOR: Jim Dee from the Belfast Telegraph.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is a question for Madame Secretary and also the first and deputy first ministers.
Madame Secretary, as my colleague pointed out, there are many serious problems in the world. Northern Ireland has enjoyed top-level attention from the White House for many years now. When Barack Obama was running against John McCain, he indicated that he may revisit the appointing of an envoy. How long can the White House, in the highest levels of the U.S. Government, stay engaged in Northern Ireland? Will there be a time when they will not?
And to the first and deputy first ministers, you are here on an economic investment journey to try to find companies that will invest in Northern Ireland. The global economy right now is in a very serious state. How contingent on economic progress and stability is political stability in Northern Ireland?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to your first question, we waited until we had the opportunity to consult with the leaders of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland about the best way to structure our relationship going forward. And it has been a unanimous agreement that having this high-level attention from the United States Government provides a real value to the ongoing peace process and to the economic aspects of, you know, anchoring peace in the soil where people can actually see the fruits of that effort.
So we will be appointing a special envoy. We’ll be appointing someone who will pay attention to the economic investment side of this. You know, there’s a great sense of affinity between the United States and the Irish, and it’s something that I take very personally as well as professionally as part of my responsibilities. It’s not only that we have many millions – about 44 million, which I think is an undercount – of Irish Americans, but it is the fact that we formed this deep relationship. And we are there to help; we’re not there to do anything other than support the decisions that these extraordinary leaders make.
But if we are needed, if we provide value, we will continue to support this process. It is gaining strength every day. As both Peter and Martin said, the reaction not just by the leaders, but the people in Northern Ireland to the murders last week demonstrated how firmly anchored peace is. But there are still some bumps along the road.
And before I turn to Peter to answer your second question, you know, the Northern Ireland economy is doing better than a lot of economies right now, so I think it is quite attractive for people who understand that we will work our way through this global economic crisis we’re in right now, and there will be opportunities for investments. And I think Peter and Martin are absolutely right to be out talking about the advantages of investing in Northern Ireland right now.
FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Secretary Clinton is right. Northern Ireland does have a deep and special relationship with the United States as part of a secret deal. The deal is that as we have supplied you with 15 presidents that we will continue to do that. (Laughter.)
And we continue to get support from the leadership of the United States. It’s working well for both of us, I think. The economy of Northern Ireland is critical and is critical to the overall process in which we’re engaged. We want to be able to show people that having local control can make a difference. And it only makes a difference to them if they feel it themselves. And therefore, it has to be able to – raise everybody hopes, it has to get into every section of our community. And the economy is the one way that you can do that, you can make people feel better, you can make people feel that this is working.
Of course, we, relatively speaking, are weathering the economic storm better than many. And we have an unemployment rate to which I think most European countries and the United States would be happy with, at just about 5 percent. But we want to go up the food chain in terms of the type of jobs that we have in Northern Ireland. And we’re looking at high-end engineering, financial and businesses services, IT, creative industries. Those are the areas that we are wanting to grow in Northern Ireland. And we can provide businesses in the United States, even in these hard times, with a good reason to come to Northern Ireland, where you get the highest skills at the lowest cost.
So yeah, we do want to improve our economy. It’s important for the overall process. And we believe that the United States has something that it can give Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland has something that it can give back.
DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: Well, I think it is very important that people benefit from the fruits of the peace process. And reiterating what Peter said, our relationship with the United States of America is rock solid. We have connections going back here centuries, and the bonds between us are very strong. And I believe that in the future, we will continue to see investment from the United States of America and the island of Ireland and specifically also in the North. And Peter and I have been tremendously encouraged by the messages that we’ve had over the course of the last short while.
In terms of the whole issue of the connection between the economic situation and the issue of political stability, let me say this. The institutions are, in my opinion, stronger and more stable now in the aftermath of the three killings than they were before. And that should send a very powerful message to those who people who were responsible for those killings. And the message is that we are not going to buckle under this pressure, but we are going to continue to do our jobs, knowing that we have got the overwhelming support of our people, people who too want to benefit for their own sakes, for the sakes of their children, and those yet unborn.
So this is about providing a better future and a better history and this is about recognizing the damage that was done to our Island and to ourselves as individuals by the past that some of us have experienced. So what we have to do is – the key point is to give leadership. That’s what it’s all about.
I attended two very important conferences in a forest in Helsinki, alongside Jeffery Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist Party, alongside Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa and Roelf Meyer. And there were many white boards and there were many black boards in attendance. And many words were written on the boards and many words were spoken. I wrote one word on the board when I addressed the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunnis, and that word was “leadership.” That’s what is required in the north of Ireland, that’s what’s required in the Middle East, that’s what’s required in Iraq, that’s what’s required in Afghanistan and in many other places throughout the world.
The benefit we had was that we had leaders who understood the need to forge an agreement, who didn’t want to be part of a process that saw the misery of the past inflected on future generations. And so I think – I would like to think that we have given strong leadership and that we have given a very powerful message – not just to our own people on the island of Ireland or in the North, but to the world – that the only way forward in situations where there is conflict and dispute is to sit down like sensible, reasonable human beings, forge agreements, and we have done that.
I mean, people have said to me, for example, what is different now in relation to what these people are doing and at a time whenever the IRA were involved in a conflict, which I supported, against the British Army? The difference is we have the Good Friday Agreement. The difference is we have all of the parties coming together, forming an inclusive government supported by the Irish Government, supported by the British Government and the U.S. Administration and the full width of international opinion, but more important than all of that, supported by the people, by ordinary housewives, workers, parents, people who have invested a tremendous amount and us as politicians, to give strong leadership and build a better future for them and for their children.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. Thank you all.