Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1998


East Room

9:35 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Every time Al Gore has a crowd like this he always says, thank you for the standing ovation. (Laughter.) Taoiseach, Ms. Larkin, to all of our guests, all the ambassadors here, all the members of Congress, distinguished guests from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and all across the United States.

There are so many Americans here who love Ireland and long for peace, I hesitate to mention any, but I must mention two: First, I would like to thank our distinguished Ambassador, who has just announced her resignation a few months hence, Jean Kennedy Smith. Thank you, ma'am, for everything you have done. (Applause.)

And I have to thank one other person who is in his present position because on one late, very sad night in 1994, my legendary powers of persuasion fell flat, and I was unable to persuade George Mitchell to run for reelection. He is still trying to determine whether, as a consequence, I bestowed upon him a blessing or a curse. (Laughter.) It's why I always tell him it is, after all, in his hands. Thank you, Senator Mitchell, for what you are doing. We appreciate that. (Applause.)

In his inaugural address, President Kennedy proposed a new approach to the Cold War when he said, "Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those which divide us." He eloquently insisted, civility is not a sign of weakness. If that was true for two great, distant, often alien superpowers like the United States and the Soviet Union, surely it is true for neighbors in Ireland.

Tonight, we have here in this room representatives, leaders of all the parties to the peace talks. It is a great night. I was thinking in sort of my impish way that I almost wish I could give them a perfectly harmless -- perfectly harmless -- three-day cold, which would require them all to be quarantined in the Green Room. (Laughter and applause.) It's not a very big room, the Green Room. (Laughter.) And we have a lot of parties to the talks. So in just three days of getting over a cold together, I think all these problems would be solved.

Well, the peace talks won't be that easy, but all of you, you have to seize this historic moment. Just think -- in just a few weeks, you could lift this enormous burden from the shoulders of all the children of Ireland.

It has been said that St. Patrick's Day is the day when the entire world wishes it were Irish. Well, when lasting peace finally comes, the entire world will rejoice. When I heard the wonderful songs up here, and Frank's wonderful reading, and all the eloquence of Irish passion and pain and joy came flooding out of the performers, young and old, I was reminded of that great line from

Yeats, "In dreams begin responsibility." All the Irish are dreamers. In the next few weeks if Irish responsibility measures up to Irish dreams this next year's celebration here will be the greatest in the history of this great house. God bless you. (Applause.)

MRS. CLINTON: We are so privileged to have with us the Taoiseach. And he gave me a wonderful reception at Dublin Castle which I will never forget, which included dining with Frank McCourt -- (laughter) -- who was just as eloquent at dinner as he was this evening. So please join me in welcoming in joining Bertie Ahern. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Thank you very much, Mrs. Clinton. President, thank you for the warm Irish welcome that you've extended to us all this evening. We much appreciate that. Your practice that you have built up, which we say now is a very old tradition -- (laughter) -- because anything that happens twice in Ireland is an old tradition -- (laughter) -- but you've been honoring St. Patrick's Day by hosting this wonderful event. It's a gesture, we believe, of recognition which we in Ireland deeply appreciate.

I'm not too sure of the wisdom of Mrs. Clinton's stating that we can stay as long as we like. (Laughter.) Most Irish people, President, that came to the United States came for a short period. (Laughter and applause.) But we really do appreciate your kindness and the kindness you've shown us all over the last few days.

I know in previous years on this occasion people have tried to claim ownership of this particular house because it was designed by James Hoban. Well, I'm not going to do that -- (laughter) -- because I don't really like Kilkenny that much anyway, and that's where he was from. (Laughter.) For all of you Irish people here, my county has been trying to beat Kilkenny for about 100 years -- (laughter.) So we move away from James Hoban.

But can I say, at a deeper level I think James Hoban symbolizes the contribution which immigrants from Ireland to both traditions made to the development of this great country. And they and their descendants are still playing a vital role in the economic and the political and the cultural life of the United States. And the President has been kind to say that so many times on so many occasions.

And this year, of course, we commemorate the bicentennial of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. And the ideals of the united Irishmen were based on the most rational and progressive and inclusive thinking of the time. And they drew on the spurs of enlightment and the constitutional theory of the founding fathers of the United States. And the tragedy, of course, was that in some instances their idealism, which was great, could not prevent occasions of sectarian violence.

And quite a lot of vision and the leadership of the united Irishmen, President, came from Ulster and especially from the Presbyterian tradition, with its enlightened emphasis on justice, equality, liberty and tolerance.

And in the White House this evening, as the President has said, are distinguished political representatives of the same traditions who were involved in the events of 200 years ago. And they, together with the Irish and British governments, are trying to create a new dispensation which will create enough of political space to accommodate all the traditions on the island and to refocus all the past dissension.

I firmly believe, like you, President, that it can be done. We appreciate your encouragement. We have not missed the pressure and the pushing that you're doing on us. I think that is fair. I think the burden of division and intolerance, which has so wounded our country -- and it has -- should not be allowed to continue into a new millennium. (Applause.)

We've heard tonight readings and the music, and we've see the song and the dance over the last number of days. And we see it all the time now. I'd like to think that Ireland is now a modern, a pluralist, a self-confident country which no longer can tolerate political violence or sectarianism. They should have no place in our lives and no role in our future. And as you said, Mr. President, in Belfast, it must be consigned to the past.

And the immediate weeks ahead will be crucial for the political future of Ireland, North and South. And when we all leave here over the next 24 hours or so -- (laughter) -- we I think have to continue the same spirit. (Applause.) We have to continue the spirit that we leave in when we get back home again. (Laughter.)

I think, President, never before have the circumstances and the combination of forces been so inclusive to achieving a settlement. And the Irish and British governments, Doctor Mo Mowlam share a common determination to bring this process to a successful conclusion.

And the parties themselves, I might want to acknowledge it here, have shown courage, have taken risks, have worked intensely. They've worked hard to make this enterprise work. It enjoys an extraordinary and even-handed, an active approach of the President of the United States of America; support from the administration, which I had the opportunity today when I was at the lunch given by the Speaker, attended by the President, of the many friends of Ireland in the Congress, many of them that are here again tonight.

So the time, friends, is ripe for a settlement. The weeks ahead are going to be challenging. They will require all the parties to show leadership and great courage and be willing to compromise and not be distracted by the normal activities of those from outside the process who will be intent in the weeks ahead of preventing a settlement. We know that, so let us not be surprised. The great prize of peace is so close. We're determined to grasp it.

And I want to promise you, Mr. President, that we can make it, we can do it. The people in this room can do it together. We know that we have your support. (Applause.)

It would be wrong of me to leave the White House this evening without thanking two people. I want to thank Senator George Mitchell for all that he has done. (Applause.) George, if I can say it in one line, I want to thank you, but I also wanted to thank Heather, your wife, your young son, for all they've allowed us. (Applause.)

And I want to be associated with the President's remarks about Jean Kennedy Smith. She has done a tremendous job for us. She has great achievements, too numerous to mention. But I want to thank her for the time and the commitment that she's afforded me and all my colleagues and successive governments over the last number of years. (Applause.)

Mr. President, your trip to Ireland showed you firsthand how deeply Irish people everywhere yearn for peace and to move the burden of conflict lifted from them. I know that that meant a lot to you, and I know that all you've said since has given all of us so much encouragement. I think we want to welcome you back soon, Mr. President. And we want to show that when you do come back, that we have taken all those risks that you've prompted us to do. We feel strongly encouraged by all that you've said.

I want to make it possible so that you can come back and you can say that what you've contributed for us, as you have in so many other parts of the world -- tonight we've been selfish talking about Ireland, but I know the people from many parts of the world could be here to acknowledge all that you have done and all the great things. (Applause.) We thank you for that.

So friends from Ireland and from the United Kingdom are working together with a common purpose, taking ownership of the agenda for our people. We can, in our own place, transform the situation. We can free each other from the cages of the past. We can cross the threshold of the new millennium at peace with ourselves and each other. Failure to do that would be a real betrayal of future generations. We cannot do that.

Mr. President, the leaders that you have gathered under this roof tonight have the capacity together to write one of the most important chapters of the history of our island. Let us now leave here and set about that task. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I feel -- we're about to leave. I feel duty bound, because there are so many people from Massachusetts here today -- (laughter) -- to tell you that in Massachusetts this is a dual holiday. This is also the day when over 200 years ago the British left Massachusetts, so it's called Evacuation Day. (Laughter.)

Now, that means that you must evacuate the White House. (Laughter.) I have to say that so State Secretary Mowlam doesn't think I made an anti-British slur here. (Laughter.) But you needn't leave until 11:59 p.m. -- (laughter) -- because it will still be Evacuation Day. (Laughter.)

Enjoy. We love having you here. Thank you. (Applause.)

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