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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 14:27 GMT
'British-Irish Council step forward'

Irish President delivered message of hope to the Dail Irish President delivers message of hope before Council meeting

The Ulster Unionists have said the new British-Irish Council will be a true reflection of the diversity of the people in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The Council, made up of ministers from the new Northern Ireland executive, the Irish cabinet, Westminster and the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, will hold its inaugural meeting in London on Friday.

The Search for Peace
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Link to Good Friday Agreement
Launching their work programme before the meeting, the Ulster Unionist Party said the formation of the council would be "a historic occasion" and "an important step forward".

Ulster Unionist assembly member Dr Esmond Birnie said it would be important for populations with so much in common.

'Revolutionary development'

He said: "We have a heritage of mixing of people. There is much more to bring us together than to divide us. And the British-Irish Council is an exciting and indeed revolutionary development to reflect that."

The Ulster Unionist document added that the council would "build upon, strengthen and safeguard our links with our constitutional partners and fellow citizens throughout the United Kingdom".

"It will eventually put an end to constitutional conflict and isolation between the various member bodies," it added.

President's tribute

Meanwhile, the Irish President has said that taking risks for peace has brought its own reward.

In her first address to both houses of the Irish parliament, the Dail and Seanad, Mary McAleese paid tribute to people from all sections of the community who had worked to bring peace to the island.

"We are mindful of the hurt caused to so many, hurts which may never heal.

"But we take heart from the forgiveness, the generosity, the love and compassion, the willingness to take risks, even in the absence of trust, of so many ordinary, everyday people who are the very heart and soul of this phenomenon we call the peace process," she said.

Mary McAleese: Risks for peace Mary McAleese: Risks for peace
Mrs McAleese, who is from Northern Ireland, was elected two years ago on a platform of bridge-building for a new era.

As she addressed the Dail at its last sitting of the millennium, her audience included the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams.

Mrs McAleese's address follows the establishment two weeks ago of Northern Ireland's first locally elected executive for 25 years.

This week, another major part of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord was implemented when the North-South Ministerial Council, made of up Northern Ireland Executive ministers and Irish cabinet ministers, met for the first time.

Six cross-border bodies to deal with issues of common concern between north and south were also established.

The first meeting of the British-Irish Council will see the establishment of all the main political institutions set out in the Agreement.

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