Minister O'Donnell confident but not complacent of progress in Northern Ireland
"Put simply, the Good Friday Agreement offers our two traditions the chance for the first time in two centuries, perhaps ever - to find a way of living together and of sharing the island on a basis of mutual respect and without the domination of one by the other, liberated from discord and hatred. That benign prospect is surely the most compelling argument for making the Agreement work".
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell TD, was addressing the Business Media Convention in Jury's Hotel in Dublin on Friday evening. She said she was confident but not complacent that the Good Friday Agreement would be successfully implemented in all its aspects. "There are four broad reasons for my confidence. First, it is the firm will of the people - a democratic imperative. Secondly, there is no alternative. Thirdly, a huge amount has already been done. And fourthly, the vast potential of the Agreement is becoming steadily more apparent."
The Minister talked about the huge progress that has already been made in implementing the Agreement's provisions, including the successful referendums North and South, elections to the Assembly, and the establishment in Northern Ireland of a powerful Human Rights Commission. Talking about the Patten Commission on policing, she said that "the opportunity for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole, is there under the Agreement - and it must be taken.
Minister O'Donnell talked about the tremendous opportunities offered by North/South co-operation. "It seems to me common sense that political stability, and confidence in the future must be fundamental to sustained, and self-renewing economic growth and development - not just in such obvious fields as tourism and inward investment, but throughout all sectors of the economy. The Minister went on to say that the new Trade Body would have a wide remit. "It will cooperate on business development opportunities, North and South. It will devise new approaches in areas such as research, training, marketing and quality improvement. It will recommend to business ways to increase enterprise competitiveness in areas such as skills availability, telecoms, IT and e-commerce. It will promote North/South trade and supply chains, including through business linkages and partnerships. It will promote cross-border trade events and marketing and will identify new areas of trade between North and South. In an era of global markets and global competition, it is crucial that both parts of the island are in a position to compete and to succeed. This requires serious cooperation and I believe that the new Body will assist in the achievement of just that".
Minister O'Donnell said that, despite the difficulties to overcome obstacles in forming an Executive, a real effort is being made to explore the limited room for manoeuvre, and to bridge the gap between what is possible and what is needed on disarmament. Talking about the negotations last year that led to the Good Friday Agreement, she said that party leaders had dug deep into their reserves of vision, courage and leadership. "It must be said that they took a leap of trust. They did so, mindful of the great prize of a future lived together in peace. Despite the obvious difficulties to be faced in the days ahead - when political leaders will be operating under great pressure with considerable responsibility riding on their shoulders - I fell certain that, once again, they will not be found wanting".