Sunday 22 July 2018

Peace process is a story of perseverance, says Obama

WESTMINSTER ADDRESS: President Barack Obama. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
WESTMINSTER ADDRESS: President Barack Obama. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Catherine Wylie

US president Barack Obama has hailed Northern Ireland and its peace process as a "story of perseverance" and urged future leaders to forge a "new identity".

On the second full day of his visit to the UK, President Obama addressed young people in Westminster and was asked about the role America has played in the peace process and how this will continue.

The US president said it is about deciding the country as a whole is "more important than any particular faction or any particular flag".

Obama described the peace process as a "story of perseverance" and said "folks are working these issues through".

He added: "What's interesting is the degree to which the example of peacemaking in Northern Ireland is now inspiring others.

"So in Colombia and Latin America right now they're trying to undergo a peace process and they've actually brought people from Northern Ireland to come and describe how you overcome years of enmity and hatred and intolerance, and try to shape a country that is unified."

President Obama said integrated education is "one of the most encouraging" developments in Northern Ireland.

He said: "One of the things that you've seen in Northern Ireland that's most important is the very simple act of recognising the humanity of those on the other side of the argument.

"Having empathy and a sense of connection with people who are not like you."

He said it requires "forging a new identity that is about being from Northern Ireland as opposed to being Unionist or Sinn Fein".

Mr Obama added: "This is a challenging time to do that because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now, because things are changing so fast, there's a temptation to forge identities, tribal identities, that give you a sense of certainty, a buffer against change.

"And that's something, our young people, they have to fight against, whether you're talking about Africa, or the Middle East, or Northern Ireland, or Burma.

"The forces that lead to the most violence and the most injustice typically spring out of people saying 'I want to feel important by dividing the world into us and them. And them threatens me, and so I've got to make sure that my tribe strikes out first'.

"And fighting that mentality and that impulse requires us to begin very young with our kids.

"One of the most encouraging things in Northern Ireland is children starting to go to school together and having a sense that we're all in this together, as opposed to it's us against them."

Mr Obama added it is "going to take some time" and will depend on the leaders of the future.

Sunday Independent

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