Remarks With First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness

By:  Hillary Clinton
Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We have, again, had the great pleasure of giving a warm Northern Ireland welcome to the Secretary of State. She, of course, has been a longtime friend of Northern Ireland. I can't help but recall that the descendants of people from Northern Ireland provided so many presidents for the United States. And over recent times, America has given so much back to Northern Ireland.
And of course, Secretary of State Clinton, you did it not just in terms of words but in deeds as well. You did it when you were First Lady. You did it when you were a U.S. Senator, and once more you have been our friend while Secretary of State. There has been barely an occasion when we have landed in the United States without going to meet you. You have always shown a tremendous interest in what is happening in Northern Ireland.

Martin and I -- very often we sit down, somebody will mention some person who has claimed to have been instrumental in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and Martin and I will look at each other and ask, "Do you know that person?" (Laughter.) And we shake our heads. But you are one person who has consistently been there to help us, and not just in terms of helping us until we got an agreement. You recognized, as few others did, that the process of peace goes beyond getting the agreement itself, and you gave us the support on an ongoing basis, and that support came in the most tangible ways, that you provided us with Declan Kelly, who did a fantastic job in opening up doors for us in the United States for investment. And you, yourself, and the State Department, invited us to come along to speak to leading business people, world-leading figures in terms of the investment potential of Northern Ireland. And we really do appreciate everything that you have done.

And we recognize that you have done that in spite of the very heavy schedule that you have, that international schedule. And we were going dizzy as you told us where you'd been and where you were going in the next few days. It is a very demanding itinerary to have. And we just want to assure you that, from the point of view of the people of Northern Ireland, we appreciate all that you have done for us. America has been a very good friend. President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama all have been helpful to us and given us a lift when we need it. But you have been there all of that time. You have been a very good friend to Northern Ireland indeed.

Our journey as a society has not been completed. We have told you of some of the difficulties that we're facing at the present time, the despicable attacks are going on on elected representatives, the threats that are out there, attacks on offices. But our journey is irreversible. We are determined to go on, and while from time to time we will have setbacks, there's no such thing as a linear progression to a stable and peaceful society. There will be bumps along the ride. And we always know that we've had a friend that we could rely on in Hillary Rodham Clinton. So thank you, Hillary, for all that you have done. We really do appreciate it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Peter.

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: Well, I, too, am absolutely delighted to join with Peter in welcoming Secretary Clinton to Belfast. Secretary Clinton has been a true and wonderful friend to all of the people of Ireland, North and South, over many, many years. And this is an opportunity for us to express our deepest thanks and admiration for the work that she has done in supporting us through what has been described variously as one of the most successful peace processes in the world today.

Secretary Clinton was one of the founders of the Vital Voices Global Partnership organization. And that's an organization that has encouraged people in conflicts all over the world to come together, and women have been at the coalface of those discussions, women from here, women from the Middle East, from Palestine and from Israel. But I think it has to be said very, very clearly that both Hillary and Bill Clinton have been absolutely vital voices for us in our process. And that's something that has to be recognized over many, many years.

I have very fond memories of the economic investment conference sponsored by Hillary at the State Department a number of years ago, and supported by President Obama, which enabled Peter and I to say without fear of contradiction, at a time when people said there's a world recession, you'll get no jobs from America, but we can say that we brought more jobs in to the North of Ireland than at any other time in the history of the state. And that's due to Hillary and the tremendous support that she gave us with the business community and the United States. And that will never be forgotten.

I want to join with Peter in expressing my total and absolute disgust and revulsion at the threats against Naomi Long, and also against other elected representatives in Belfast. We have -- and it's been the great strength of our association over the course of the last five years -- time and time again stood against those who would try to plunge us back to the past. And we will have a further opportunity on Monday morning, when the assembly meets, to express collectively, all of the parties in the assembly, our total opposition to threats, intimidation, and violence. And it's very important that we do so in a very forthright fashion, because we do know that there are people on the extremes of loyalism, and there are people on the extremes of republicanism who wish to plunge us back to the past. We are going to resist that with every fiber of our being.

The last thing I want to say is the media are treating this visit by Secretary Clinton as a farewell tour. Well, when we say goodbye to the Clintons, we also say, "We'll see you again soon." (Laughter.) And we will see them again soon, because there are no truer friends to this island, or our peace process, or the economic prosperity that many people enjoy as a result of the new jobs that have been provided, provided by the support given by both Bill and Hillary Clinton. So we wish you all the very best in the future. And again, our deepest thanks and appreciation for your support.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, well, I'm very pleased to be back. And I want to thank both Peter and Martin for those very kind words, but more than that, for your leadership and the great work that you are doing together on behalf of Northern Ireland. It is fair to say this is a place that keeps drawing me back, and I'm sure will for as far as I can see into the future. I'm especially reminded of the first time I came to Belfast 17 years ago this month, when Bill and I came because of the glimmerings that there might be some path forward toward peace. And it was the first time an American president ever set foot in Northern Ireland. Peter is absolutely right that we had people who left, depart, and went to the United States and actually became president or were the descendants of those who had left, but this was the first time an American president came.

It was a little over a year after the first ceasefire, Martin, and we were invited to turn on Belfast's Christmas lights. And I remember that as though it were yesterday instead of 17 years ago, and all that it meant to us to be standing there looking out at the vast throngs of people who had come with great expectations. So many fathers with their children on their shoulders as I looked out on that scene, and there was a little girl named Catherine who had lost her father in the Troubles, and she said her Christmas wish was that peace and love would last forever. That's a particularly good Christmas wish, but it's always a good wish here, not just in this season but all through the year, because the people of Northern Ireland know all too well that the alternative is not one that anyone can even imagine going back to.

But peace does take sacrifice and compromise and vigilance day after day. And we've seen that again this week that the work is not complete, because we have seen violence break out again. And I join with both Peter and Martin and all the leaders and citizens who have condemned the recent attacks here in Belfast and around the whole area. Because look, there will always be disagreements in democratic societies. We're experts at that in the United States. We have a lot of very serious, difficult disagreements that divide us. But violence is never an acceptable response to those disagreements, and I strongly endorse what Peter and Martin have said, that all parties need to confront the remaining challenges of sectarian division peacefully and together. I'll have more to say about that when I speak at a lunch hosted by the Ireland Funds.

The United States has been proud to be your partner for more than two decades now. We've worked to try to help build not only a future of peace but one of prosperity. In fact, the United States has supported the political process, providing more than $530 million in assistance through the International Fund for Ireland. And we have also tried to make it clear that we think what is important here is that people have a chance to see the benefits of peace, that they get an opportunity to have a better life for themselves and certainly for their children.

I think that there will be a lot of ways that we can work together to spur economic growth. Northern Ireland has a skilled workforce, world-class research institutions, an advanced telecommunications infrastructure that is essential for competing in today's knowledge economy, and I am very keen on continuing not only in this position but in the future to be of whatever assistance I can to maintain our connection but also to work to produce results.

The U.S.-Ireland Research and Development Partnership is working to reinvigorate science and technology cooperation among Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the United States, and we just recently had a visit of our experts to help facilitate partnerships between our science and technology agencies, foster research networks, and try to build more economic connections between the North and the South.

So it's always a pleasure to be with Peter and Martin and to really applaud their leadership, which has been extraordinary and absolutely essential, no more so than right now. And I think you've got so much to work toward that is positive and moving toward creating the kind of future that people have been working toward, and I'm very confident that you will continue to make progress together. Thank you.

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Thank you very much, indeed. Secretary, just before we allow some questions, Martin and I, when we had it confirmed that you would be visiting with us, we never know quite which element of the press we should believe, whether it's a valedictory tour or whether it's not, but we are not going to miss the opportunity because we felt that you have played such an important role in the process that we have been a part of in Northern Ireland that we would make an award to you. And if you'll join Martin and I, we'll make the presentation.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

(The award was presented.)

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it's beautiful.

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: (Inaudible) it's a likeness of you. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: We've got the hair right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Love the hair. Yes, the current hair. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: Just for the press's information, this was the work of Maurice Harron, who is from my old city and he's one of the most renowned sculptors on the island of Ireland, and his work can be seen all over the island and indeed many other places including in the United States of America. When we asked him to do this, he came up with the idea within 24 hours, which was absolutely amazing. And I think it's a fitting tribute to present this to you, Hillary, on the basis that he has called it just one word, "Agreement." (Inaudible.)

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Can you bring your hand to the top of it there, please, sir? (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Thank you, Martin. Give me his name, and I will write him a note.

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: We will.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great.

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER MCGUINNESS: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

FIRST MINISTER ROBINSON: Okay, we just have time for two questions. The first question from Mark Devenport from BBC Northern Ireland.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, welcome to Stormont. Given the well-documented (inaudible) process and in particular the role of women in conflict resolution, how depressing do you find it that on the day you arrive there, a leading woman politician resident is there, in Parliament (inaudible) Naomi Long, is facing a death threat as part of the latest escalation of this dispute over the flying of the Union flag? Is there a danger that some people here, some politicians even, are taking the progress that you and your husband worked so hard to achieve for granted?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that I know Naomi Long, and obviously, I am very distressed by the news that she's been subjected to threats, that members of the Alliance Party have had their homes and offices attacked. That's absolutely unacceptable, and both Peter and Martin have spoken out in unmistakable terms condemning this kind of intimidation, threatening behavior.

However, I think, as I have also said, the violence is a reminder that although much progress has been made, the hard work of reconciliation and fostering mutual understanding must continue. We had a chance to speak about that when we were meeting before coming out here. And as I said, there will always be disagreements in any democratic society. People have strong feelings. But you must not use violence as a means of expressing those strong feelings. The only path forward is a peaceful, democratic one that recognizes the right of others to express their opinions, but not to resort to violence. And there can be no place in the new Northern Ireland for any violence. Any of the remnants of the past need to be quickly, unequivocally condemned.

Democracy requires dialogue, compromise, and constant commitment by everyone to protecting the rights of everyone. And so the United States will continue to strongly support all those who stand on the side of peace and reconciliation and democracy and dialogue, and we will strongly support the work that Peter and Martin and their colleagues are doing. As you heard, there will be a chance to express their commitment at a session of the assembly next Monday.

And we also want to emphasize that the economic work that has to continue to give everyone a better economic future will be impeded if violence returns. I mean, 17 years ago, the Europa Hotel was boarded because of bombs and threats. I mean, it was -- this is something that I have seen for myself, what a difference it can make. And so I really know that this is a small minority of people -- it always is in every society -- who try to stir up passions and emotions, or resort to taking actions like those uncovered, as Martin was telling me earlier today. Unacceptable and must be repudiated by everyone, no matter how strongly someone feels about their political or social beliefs.

MODERATOR: Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, Indira.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Madam Secretary. We wanted to ask about your meeting last night with UN Envoy Brahimi and Russian Minister Lavrov and find out from you if you got a sense from the meeting that Mr. Lavrov and the Russians have actually changed and compromised on anything on their stand on Syria. And were there any concrete coming together of your position or anything where there's still a difference that you could describe to us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, it was a very constructive session, and I greatly appreciated Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi reaching out to me, and Sergey Lavrov asking if he could meet with us while we were both in Dublin for the OSCE meetings. We reviewed the very dangerous developments inside Syria. Mr. Brahimi had his own additional information to contribute about what he's hearing from sources inside Syria. And both Minister Lavrov and I committed to support a renewed push by Brahimi and his team to work with all the stakeholders in Syria to begin a political transition based on the outline that we agreed to in Geneva last year. And it was an important meeting, but just the beginning. The next step will be a meeting in the next few days where I will be sending senior officials, as will the Russians, to talk about how we can operationalize the path forward.

I don't think anyone believes that there was some great breakthrough. No one should have any illusions about how hard this remains. But all of us with any influence on the process, with any influence on the regime or the opposition, needs to be engaged with Brahimi for a concerted, sincere push to see what is possible in the face of the advancing developments on the ground which are increasingly dangerous not only to Syrians, but to their neighbors.

I would also just underscore that one of the chief strengths of the Geneva document is it includes clear steps -- I would refer you to it -- toward a transition. And it has a section entitled Perspective For The Future which outlines the democratic principles and international human rights standards that the Syrian people have been demanding and that we in the international community expect.

So as this moves forward, I want everyone to understand that we're going to be holding every party to the same standard. This is not just a one-sided dialogue. It has to be one that is inclusive, but everyone must understand what is expected of them. And let me also be absolutely clear the United States stands with the Syrian people in insisting that any transition process result in a unified, democratic Syria in which all citizens are represented -- Sunni, Alawi, Christians, Kurds, Druze, men, women. Every Syrian must be included in this process for a new and better future. And a future of this kind cannot possibly include Assad.

So we go into these discussions with a clear sense of what we want to see accomplished, but a realistic understanding of how difficult it still is.