President Barack Obama urged Northern Ireland’s politicians today to keep working towards a permanent peace.
Fifteen years after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement which cleared the way for the power-sharing executive in Belfast, the US president said the world was watching for the next stage of the process.
He hinted it was time for an end to segregated education and housing.
He said: “You need to get this right. You set the example for those who are seeking peace to end conflicts of their own.
“You are their blueprint to follow. You are the proof of what is possible. Hope is contagious. They are watching to see what you do next.”
During an uplifting keynote address to an invited audience of 2,000 people, mainly school students, Mr Obama lauded the Northern Ireland peace process as a model and promised that America would continue to support the Stormont political system.
He added: “Peace is not just about politics. It is about attitudes, a sense of empathy and breaking down barriers in hearts.”
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the First and Deputy First Ministers of the Stormont power-sharing executive, greeted the president on arrival at the Waterfront and held a brief private meeting before Mr Obama appeared on stage.
Mr Obama acknowledged the challenges that exist.
“There are still people who have not reaped the rewards of peace, there are those who are not convinced that the effort is worth it.
“There are still wounds that have not been healed and communities where tension and mistrust hangs in the air. There are walls that still stand, there are still many miles to go.”
He said it was within his audience’s power to change that.
“Whether you are a good neighbour to someone from the other side of past battles, that is up to you,” he warned.
“Whether you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve, that is up to you.
“Whether you let your kids play with kids who attended a different church...that is up to you.”