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Peacemakers in Northern Ireland 'inspiring others', Barack Obama says

Published 23/04/2016

Mr Obama described it as a
Mr Obama described it as a "story of perseverance" and said "folks are working these issues through"

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, Mr 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 President said it is about deciding the country as a whole is "more important than any particular faction or any particular flag".

Mr 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."

Mr 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.

The question was put forward by 21-year-old Cliona McCarney from the Ormeau Road in Belfast who described what the President said as "groundbreaking".

She told the Press Association: "I don't know when he will maybe speak about Northern Ireland again, if he will at all, so I feel very proud that I managed to, I suppose, put Northern Ireland on the agenda at an event like that, because it would very often be largely focused on England."

Reflecting on Mr Obama's answer, Ms McCarney, a member of Young Leaders UK, said: "In a lot of ways it was very groundbreaking whereby it set a real sort of challenge to young people in Northern Ireland that we can no longer demand and expect a better future. We have to build it ourselves."

She added: "What he said about integrated education as well was very, very interesting and another thing I really agree with. So I think that he seemed to really speak from the heart."

Ms McCarney said he showed "a real genuine interest" in Northern Ireland.

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