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Remarks by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ahern at St. Patrick's Day Reception

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The Briefing Room

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 Gorehas a crowd like this he always says, thank you for the standingovation. (Laughter.) Taoiseach, Ms. Larkin, to all of our guests,all the ambassadors here, all the members of Congress, distinguishedguests from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and all acrossthe United States.

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

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

In his inaugural address, President Kennedy proposed anew approach to the Cold War when he said, "Let both sides explorewhat problems unite us instead of belaboring those which divide us."He eloquently insisted, civility is not a sign of weakness. If thatwas true for two great, distant, often alien superpowers like theUnited States and the Soviet Union, surely it is true for neighborsin 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 couldgive them a perfectly harmless -- perfectly harmless -- three-daycold, which would require them all to be quarantined in the GreenRoom. (Laughter and applause.) It's not a very big room, the GreenRoom. (Laughter.) And we have a lot of parties to the talks. So injust three days of getting over a cold together, I think all theseproblems would be solved.

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

It has been said that St. Patrick's Day is the day whenthe entire world wishes it were Irish. Well, when lasting peacefinally comes, the entire world will rejoice. When I heard thewonderful songs up here, and Frank's wonderful reading, and all theeloquence of Irish passion and pain and joy came flooding out of theperformers, 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 Irishdreams this next year's celebration here will be the greatest in thehistory of this great house. God bless you. (Applause.)

MRS. CLINTON: We are so privileged to have with us theTaoiseach. And he gave me a wonderful reception at Dublin Castlewhich I will never forget, which included dining with Frank McCourt-- (laughter) -- who was just as eloquent at dinner as he was thisevening. 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'veextended to us all this evening. We much appreciate that. Yourpractice that you have built up, which we say now is a very oldtradition -- (laughter) -- because anything that happens twice inIreland is an old tradition -- (laughter) -- but you've been honoringSt. 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 statingthat 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 kindnessand the kindness you've shown us all over the last few days.

I know in previous years on this occasion people havetried to claim ownership of this particular house because it wasdesigned 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 Irishpeople here, my county has been trying to beat Kilkenny for about 100years -- (laughter.) So we move away from James Hoban.

But can I say, at a deeper level I think James Hobansymbolizes the contribution which immigrants from Ireland to bothtraditions made to the development of this great country. And theyand their descendants are still playing a vital role in the economicand the political and the cultural life of the United States. Andthe President has been kind to say that so many times on so manyoccasions.

And this year, of course, we commemorate thebicentennial of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. And the ideals of theunited Irishmen were based on the most rational and progressive andinclusive thinking of the time. And they drew on the spurs ofenlightment and the constitutional theory of the founding fathers ofthe United States. And the tragedy, of course, was that in someinstances their idealism, which was great, could not preventoccasions of sectarian violence.

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

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

I firmly believe, like you, President, that it can bedone. We appreciate your encouragement. We have not missed thepressure and the pushing that you're doing on us. I think that isfair. I think the burden of division and intolerance, which has sowounded our country -- and it has -- should not be allowed tocontinue into a new millennium. (Applause.)

We've heard tonight readings and the music, and we'vesee the song and the dance over the last number of days. And we seeit 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 toleratepolitical violence or sectarianism. They should have no place in ourlives and no role in our future. And as you said, Mr. President, inBelfast, it must be consigned to the past.

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

I think, President, never before have the circumstancesand the combination of forces been so inclusive to achieving asettlement. And the Irish and British governments, Doctor Mo Mowlamshare a common determination to bring this process to a successfulconclusion.

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

So the time, friends, is ripe for a settlement. Theweeks ahead are going to be challenging. They will require all theparties to show leadership and great courage and be willing tocompromise and not be distracted by the normal activities of thosefrom outside the process who will be intent in the weeks ahead ofpreventing 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 canmake 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 thisevening without thanking two people. I want to thank Senator GeorgeMitchell for all that he has done. (Applause.) George, if I can sayit in one line, I want to thank you, but I also wanted to thankHeather, your wife, your young son, for all they've allowed us.(Applause.)

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

Mr. President, your trip to Ireland showed you firsthandhow deeply Irish people everywhere yearn for peace and to move theburden of conflict lifted from them. I knowthat that meant a lot to you, and I know that all you've said sincehas given all of us so much encouragement. I think we want towelcome you back soon, Mr. President. And we want to show that whenyou do come back, that we have taken all those risks that you'veprompted us to do. We feel strongly encouraged by all that you'vesaid.

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

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

Mr. President, the leaders that you have gathered underthis roof tonight have the capacity together to write one of the mostimportant chapters of the history of our island. Let us now leavehere and set about that task. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I feel -- we're about to leave. I feelduty bound, because there are so many people from Massachusetts heretoday -- (laughter) -- to tell you that in Massachusetts this is adual holiday. This is also the day when over 200 years ago theBritish 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'tthink I made an anti-British slur here. (Laughter.) But you needn'tleave until 11:59 p.m. -- (laughter) -- because it will still beEvacuation Day. (Laughter.)

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

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