Belfast Telegraph

Your leaders' statesmanship has secured a much brighter future for Northern Ireland

By Gary Hart, US Envoy to Northern Ireland

Americans know, as well as anyone, that democracy is never easy and never perfect. It is an ongoing process that requires patience, participation, dedication, and most of all that dimension beyond traditional leadership called statesmanship.

Statesmanship was demonstrated in Northern Ireland this week when, after months of negotiations, almost all the elements of the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement were restored and ratified.

Credit for statesmanship in the interest of Northern Ireland's future was earned by First Minister Peter Robinson (right) and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (below).

If special awards for patience and persistence were available, they would go to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (right) and Ireland's Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan, who refused to abandon all the progress made a year ago in the original Stormont House negotiations.

In substance, the two largest parties represented in the Executive agreed on a financial package, including welfare reform, that will carry Northern Ireland forward for the foreseeable future.

Commitments were made to curb paramilitary activities and the criminal activities associated with them.

Remaining to be resolved are legacy issues and the needs of victims, a resolution of which primarily depends on finding the right, practical balance between transparency and national security. All parties still have an opportunity to build on the progress made in talks to create institutions to address the past effectively, as envisioned in the Stormont House Agreement.

Now having reached agreement between the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, the hard work of implementation begins.

As it is often said, the devil is in the details. The SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, and the Alliance Party all contributed ideas and solutions, and their continued support is vital.

Each of them will have a critical role to play in bringing about the progress this new agreement seeks. Each of them will have differences with one provision or another, and each has expressed dissatisfaction with being kept on the sidelines during recent negotiations.

But the perfect is often the enemy of the good. Fault can always be found if fault is being looked for. No political agreement is ever perfect and none achieve every objective of every party. But by commitment to implementation, each of these parties has a chance to achieve one or more of their objectives. No goal is ever scored from the sidelines.

For ourselves, the United States Government is eager to encourage US businesses to visit Northern Ireland, talk to public officials and the business community, and explore opportunities for investment, production, and marketing. A key to this effort, as before, is successful lowering of the corporate tax rate in just over two years' time, which represents a significant factor for attracting jobs-generating direct investment, including from the United States, Northern Ireland's biggest foreign investor.

We will also be encouraging bipartisan Congressional visits to Northern Ireland and taking other steps to let Americans know that Northern Ireland's future is now brighter because of the statesmanship exhibited this week.

Belfast Telegraph


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