Obama: N.Ireland must be brave when peace attacked
US President Barack Obama on Monday told the people of Northern Ireland that they must respond with bravery whenever their hard-won peace fashioned after years of violence comes under attack.
Obama told an audience of mostly young people in Belfast that the United States would always stand by them, as a new generation tries to forge a new identity from the province's bitter past.
"You are the first generation in this land to inherit more than just hardened attitudes, and the bitter prejudices of the past. You are an inheritor of a just and harder peace," Obama said, after flying into Northern Ireland for the G8 summit.
"Whenever your peace is attacked, you will have to choose whether to respond with the same bravery you've summoned so far. You will have to choose whether to keep going," Obama said.
"You should know that so long as you are moving forward, America will always stand by you as you do. We will keep working closely with leaders in Stormont, and Dublin, and Westminster to support your political progress."
Although the president has previously visited England and the Republic of Ireland, he was making his first trip to Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
"All of you ... possess something the generation before yours did not: an example to follow," Obama said.
"When those who took a chance on peace got started, they didn't have a successful model to emulate. They didn't know if it would work. But they took a chance. So far, it has succeeded.
"The first steps are the hardest and require the most courage. The rest, now, are up to you."
The president said that through the dark years of violence, the violence had been seen as "intractable" and added that the subsequent peace deal had inspired those trapped in sectarian conflicts around the world.
"Hope is contagious. They are watching to see what you do next."
Before the speech, at the Waterfront Hall, in Belfast, Obama met Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness.
A 1998 peace agreement brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics known as the Troubles, in Northern Ireland, a process the United States supported.
But sporadic bomb threats and murders by dissident republicans continue, despite a wave of economic development and reconciliation efforts.
The president, marvelling at the changes in Northern Ireland, after decades of riots, bombings and killings, said a few years ago, it was unimaginable that the province could have hosted an event as complex and requiring such a heavy security presence as the summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations at a golf resort at Lough Erne, a short ride away from Belfast in Obama's Marine One helicopter.
On a lighter note, the golf-mad Obama told the audience that he was sorry he could not get in a few rounds of golf on some of Northern Ireland's famous links during his visit.
But he recalled that he met native son Rory McIlroy last year, who offered to help him get his weekend golfer's swing "sorted."