LORD MAYOR LONG: Secretary Clinton, distinguished guests, councilors, ladies and gentlemen, you’re all very welcome here to Belfast City Hall on this most auspicious of occasions. I’m particularly delighted to welcome back our guest of honor, Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton, to City Hall amidst the occasion of our reopening after the £11 million pound refurbishment program which has been completed over the last two years.
Secretary Clinton has a very long and a very happy association not just with this building, which she has visited on previous occasions, but also with the City of Belfast and with its people. And so it is particularly fitting that she should be with us today and that she was able to undertake the official ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the reopening of this most iconic Belfast building on her arrival.
With all of the various demands upon your time and your attention, not only locally but also internationally, we are very honored and privileged that you have taken the time to visit with us this afternoon and to be part of what is for us a very historic occasion. Your presence makes it all the more special for each of us.
Secretary Clinton, I was listening with great interest as this morning in the Assembly you recounted your memories, very warm memories of switching on the Christmas tree lights at City Hall many years ago when you were First Lady. And I have to say that I too have wonderful memories of that occasion because I was one of the gathered throng outside struggling to see you and who were absolutely thrilled at your presence here at Belfast and out with your husband on that wonderful evening.
For many of us, it was a significant milestone on the journey which we were embarking towards, the more peaceful and stable city in which we stand today. That visit and the continued commitment that the American Administration, allied to your own personal commitment to this city and the region which lies beyond it, has inspired and encouraged many of us to aspire to a better future, and it continues to do so today.
As we stand here today in these magnificent surroundings, I think we can all agree that the refurbishment of this building has been a huge success, and we can appreciate and be proud of the vision of those who built City Hall for future generations over 100 years ago. For those of us who now have the responsibility for taking Belfast forward to the future, it is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the legacy which we will leave behind for future generations. In our reopening and indeed throughout the refurbishment plans and programs, we have aimed to create a City Hall for all. And I trust that our legacy will be one of a peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive future for all of the people of Belfast.
The regeneration and restoration of City Hall also reflects the wider change and transformation of the city itself, which I am sure Secretary Clinton will both recognize and welcome. Belfast is an increasingly vibrant and dynamic city – politically, culturally, socially, and economically – and we are committed to further progress.
The links between the United States and Belfast are historically very strong, not least because many left these shores to make new lives for themselves in the land of opportunity. It is testament to the hard work of so many that Belfast is now recognized as a city of opportunity for many around the world, whether they be as new citizens or as investors, and at the council we offer a very warm welcome to both.
Our transformation and regeneration as a city is not complete, but we are emerging from our difficult political past and we are moving forward to a future filled with potential and optimism, a future as a city which truly values the contributions which each person has to make to its success.
We want to extend to you our sincerest appreciation for your continued interest in all that we do. It is good to know that we have the continued support and encouragement of you, Secretary Clinton, and the Obama Administration as we strive to realize our ambitions for this city and its citizens.
Before we move to unveil the plaque which will be erected in City Hall to mark your visit here today, I am delighted to be able to invite you to address our assembled guests. Thank you. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Lord Mayor Long, and I am delighted to be back here in this magnificent City Hall and to see so many friends and familiar faces whom I have come to know over the years. I also want to recognize the other distinguished officials who are here with us, and I feel compelled as a former political spouse to recognize Michael Long, the Lord Mayor’s husband. (Applause.) I know that the High Sheriff is here, that the Chief Constable of the Police Services of Northern Ireland are here, and so many other people who play an important role in the unfolding future of this great city.
This reopening could not have come at a better time. I remember so well my first visit back in 1995, and I remember that there wasn’t the level of activity and excitement and energy that one sees here in Belfast today. In fact, it is hard to even recognize the city that I first visited 14 years ago with the shops and the restaurants and the streets bustling. And it takes a special kind of confidence for someone to name a major real estate venture “The Titanic.” (Laughter.) And I think that goes to the full-speed-ahead, forward motion of the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland. And it isn’t any surprise to you to learn that my husband and I have a great deal of affection for this place, for the people whom we have come to know and whom we have admired from afar.
Few expected even on that glorious night 14 years ago that we would be standing here today with all the positive change that has happened. On that night I read two letters. I read a letter from a young girl and a letter from a young boy. And one from a 12-year-old girl read: “All my life I have only known guns and bombs with people fighting. Now it is different. There are no guns and bombs. What I hope is that when I have my own children that there will still be peace and that Belfast will be a peaceful place from now on.”
Well, 14 years later, I think that expression of hope that we heard from that young girl has been recognized. It was a testament to the courage and conviction of so many people in this room. And I have to recognize my old friend, John Hume, for what you did to make this happen.
But I couldn't come here and look out without also recognizing another special group, the women of Belfast, the women of Northern Ireland. They have written that young girl’s wish on their hearts. Mothers and daughters and sisters and wives throughout this city organized and led a united front in the campaign for peace. What I have seen around the world is that very often it is women who worry about their children, who worry about their husbands, who worry about the day-to-day necessities of life, who finally transcend old divisions and find a way to come together on behalf of a more peaceful and prosperous future. And I was so pleased to see a number of my friends from Vital Voices, women whose voices never wavered in their commitment to peace.
So we recognize the passionate advocacy for peace. We recognize the hard work of so many in government and in the business community and all the people of Northern Ireland who have shown bravery in the face of violence and who have made a commitment to a durable peace. And there’s no better place than right here in this City Hall to be reminded. What is now called City Hall was once White Linen Hall, the world’s greatest linen manufacturer. The products made here by both Catholics and Protestants reached ports throughout the globe and proclaimed Belfast as one of the most prosperous cities in Europe.
And I think that it is a reminder that what was could be again. And I understand that a designer has even fashioned a gown inspired by the Belfast City Hall Dome. Now, I will do a lot of things to support the people of Northern Ireland. (Laughter.) A gown shaped like a dome may be a step too far. I think even a ride on the ferris wheel may be a step too far. But every other step I will make with you, and I bring the commitment not only of myself and the great warm wishes of my husband and my daughter, but of President Obama and this Administration and indeed well-wishers from across America who feel very connected and very committed to help you as you continue to make this journey toward a lasting, durable peace with all of the rewards that that will bring.
Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)
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