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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 14:05 GMT

Blair: Declare victory of peace

Symbolic unity at a difficult time for the peace process

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on nationalists and unionists to understand one another and work together for a secure peace.

BBC Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray: "An unprecedented high in Anglo-Irish relations"
His comments came in a historic address to a joint sitting of the Irish parliament - a symbolic moment at a difficult point in the Northern Ireland peace process.

He said after decades of division caused by Northern Ireland, the province could now bring the two countries closer together.

[ image: Tony Blair received a standing ovation for his speech]
Tony Blair received a standing ovation for his speech
In the first speech to the Dail by a UK prime minister since Dublin declared independence in 1922, Mr Blair urged the Irish not to fear or hate unionists.

"They are good and decent people just like you," he said. "They feel threatened - threatened by terrorism and worried that the Good Friday Agreement would force them into a united Ireland.

"Just as we must understand your yearning for a united Ireland, so too must you understand what the best of unionism is about."

Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Like it or not, we the British and the Irish are irredeemably linked together"
Mr Blair stressed the links between the UK and Ireland, including the impact of Irish immigration on his own constituency and the whole of Britain's development.

He told the Dail his mother was born in Ireland and he spent every childhood summer holiday until the Troubles began there.

[ image: A truly historic occasion]
A truly historic occasion
"Like it or not, we the British and the Irish are irredeemably linked together.

"So much shared history, so much shared pain and now the hope of a new shared beginning."

Ahern: New way forward

Later, at a Dublin school, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said his country too was working towards the same end.

He said the end of Ireland's constitutional claim to Northern Ireland was a major step forward.

[ image: Public frustrated at lack of progress]
Public frustrated at lack of progress
"We have removed the constitutional bar which has been there for 80 years," he said.

Mr Ahern told young people at St Aidan's Secondary: "The year I left this school, in the autumn of 1968, on the 5th of October 1968 the Troubles started and they never really ended.

"Hopefully the beginning of the end was when Prime Minister Tony Blair and myself at seven o'clock on the 10th of April signed an agreement that said there was a better way of doing things and that way is not killing, bombing, murdering."

Blair: No turning back

In his speech, Mr Blair admitted the peace process faced difficulties but said it had gone too far now to turn back.

He said the impact of his meeting with survivors of the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 and injured more than 200, strengthened his determination to press ahead.

Prime Minister Tony Blair: "I am not asking anyone to surrender, I am asking everyone to declare the victory of peace"
"It is time now I believe for all the parties to live up to all their commitment, time for north-south bodies to be set up, time to set up the institutions for a new government, time for the gun to be taken out of politics once and for all.

[ image: Deadlock over decommissioning remains]
Deadlock over decommissioning remains
"I am not asking anyone to surrender, I am asking everyone to declare the victory of peace.

"Now the UK and Ireland are two modern countries. We must try to put our histories behind us, and try to forgive and forget these age-old enmities, and look to a better future."

"It is in the end about belonging - the wish of unionists to belong to the UK, the wish of nationalists to belong to a united Ireland."

A small protest by members of Republican Sinn Fein greeted Mr Blair outside the Dail, but he was warmly welcomed by members of the parliament and received a standing ovation.

The UK prime minister's address follows in the footsteps of a long line of heads of state, including John F Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.

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