April 18, 2023
Queens University Belfast
As prepared for delivery
” The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement remains a stunning achievement to this day, and the foundation of Northern Ireland’s progress in the years since. But our task today is not to look backward. Our task today is to look forward, and determine how to make progress where progress still needs to be made.”
Ambassador Jane Hartley: Thank you! Before I say anything, let’s give a round of applause for Jaime-Lukas. He is an inspiring example of how our two people are connected: an American student excelling here in Belfast, committed to making his community a better place – wherever that community is. He is also a reminder of the international benefits of peace.
25 years ago, not many young people were traveling to Belfast for their studies. Peace has opened the door of possibility for so many young people, most importantly for young people here in Northern Ireland.
When I arrived in Belfast on my first official visit a few months ago, I came here to Queens University, where I spoke with many of you about your ambitions for the future. And it was clear that they are very much the same as ours: It’s the hope that you can pass on more opportunity to your children, and that they can pass on more opportunity to theirs. Sometimes we call that the American dream but it’s really a universal dream, shared by families from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Belfast, Maine.
Faith in that simple dream is what unites us; and gives meaning and urgency to our efforts to protect a hard-won peace. I saw that urgency in the eyes of the young leaders I met here, who were born in Northern Ireland, and though they studied or worked abroad, decided to move back home because they want to live their lives here, and make their neighborhoods stronger and better. I saw that urgency here at Queens University, where you are partnering with local businesses and tech companies to create job pipelines for students in Northern Ireland.
But I also saw communities that still need to be lifted up. Places where people are eager to work hard and contribute, but where investment and opportunity are scarce.
25 years on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we have so much celebrate. A once-fragile peace has held strong, giving hope and opportunity to a generation of young people who grew up free from the violence and despair of the Troubles. We owe a tremendous debt to the people who risked their lives and livelihoods to achieve that landmark agreement. The people who, as President Biden said, walked “brave steps so that their children might have a better future.”
The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement remains a stunning achievement to this day, and the foundation of Northern Ireland’s progress in the years since. But our task today is not to look backward. Our task today is to look forward, and determine how to make progress where progress still needs to be made.
So this week, as we celebrate the enduring success of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, let us dedicate ourselves to recapturing its spirit. Of renewal. Of compromise. The focus on creating more opportunity for the next generation.
The United States is the single largest source of investment into Northern Ireland: more than 200 companies employ more than 30,000 people. Let’s build on that. Let’s show the world what Northern Ireland has to offer in terms of resources, talent and creativity. Let’s create more links between universities and the private sector, like Queens University is doing.
We need that spirit of renewal now: to get back to governing, because economic progress depends on political stability. The Windsor Framework gives everyone a roadmap towards a more prosperous future. The task now is for all parties to walk a few more brave steps and get back to the hard work of government. Democracy—however messy and imperfect—remains the best way for Northern Ireland to decide its own destiny. To paraphrase President Clinton: the difficulties of sharing power are nothing compared to the difficulties of having no power at all to shape your future.
Earlier this morning, you had a panel of local elected leaders from all parties having a conversation. They took some brave steps. We hope to see scenes like that again soon in Stormont.
The truth is: everyone here wants to make the next 25 years of Northern Irish history about prosperity, just as the first 25 years were about peace. And I believe they will be. You heard it from the President of the United States last week: America believes in Northern Ireland. We believe in you. We are committed to your progress. We have faith in the peace you have built. We believe there is no turning back.
Our challenge now – a challenge we welcome – is to lift up everyone in Northern Ireland equally and pass on more opportunity to the next generation.
Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, George Mitchell said that the real credit belonged: “to the people and political leaders of Northern Ireland, who: in dangerous and difficult circumstances, after entire lifetimes in conflict with one another, summoned extraordinary courage and vision.”
Now it is our time. Our time to summon that extraordinary courage and vision: to meet the challenges we face, and seize the opportunities before us, and to build the kind of future for Northern Ireland that its young people deserve.