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Clinton Urges Peace During First Visit to Northern Ireland

By Patrick J. Sloyan
Newsday
BELFAST, Northern Ireland

The hate and division that have racked Northern Ireland vanished for President Clinton Thursday as Catholics and Protestants came together to cheer the American leader's call for a permanent peace that would remove terror and violence from the streets of Ulster.

"Surely there is no going back," Clinton said in urging both Roman Catholic Sinn Fein and Protestant Unionist leaders to build on a 15-month-old cease-fire that has transformed Northern Ireland.

As the first U.S. president to visit the province, it was a triumphant Clinton who traveled up the Catholic Falls Road and down the Protestant Shankill Road, saw the stone and steel fence that still divides Belfast's two communities and took his peacemaking mission to Londonderry, home of the most deep-seated passions of this ancient ethnic feud.

"You must stand firm against terror," Clinton said. "You must say to those who still would use violence for political objectives: You are the past; your day is over. We will stand with you as you take risks for peace."

While the president urged both sides to move forward, he and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, evoked the past and the pain of The Troubles through the lips and letters of Ulster children who became victims of 25 years of bombs and cold-blooded assassinations.

Many were in tears at a Belfast machine plant where Clinton was introduced by 9-year-old Catherine Hamill, who told the audience her father worked at a warehouse and then added, "My first daddy died in The Troubles. It was the saddest day of my life. I still think of him." Her Catholic father was killed by masked gunmen who barged into their home.

Later at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Belfast, Hillary Clinton read a letter from 12-year-old Cathy Harte, a Catholic winner of a writing contest on hopes for the Ulster peace.

"All my life, I have only known guns and bombs with people fighting," the girl wrote. "Now it is different. Hopefully, the peace will be permanent; that one day Catholics and Protestants will be able to walk hand in hand and will be able to live in the same area."

More than 3,200 have died since 1969, many of them at the hands of the provisional Irish Republican Army and Unionist paramilitaries who holstered their weapons last year. It was to their political leadership that Clinton delivered his toughest message.

"Even when children stand up and say what these children said today, there will always be people who, deep down inside, will never be able to give up the past," Clinton said.

"There will always be those who define the worth of their lives not by who they are but by who they aren't; not by what they're for, but by what they are against.