Dáil Éireann - Volume 497 - 26 November, 1998
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: A Phriomh-Aire Uasail Blair, is mór an onóir domsa mar Cheann Comhairle Dáil Éireann fáilte Uí Cheallaigh a chuir romhat ar an ócáid stairiúil agus fíorspeisialta seo.
Prime Minister Blair, it is my great privilege as Ceann Comhairle to extend to you on my own behalf and on behalf of all the Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann a most warm and sincere Irish welcome.
Your acceptance of our invitation to come here and to address the joint sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas bestows a great honour on all of us. Today is a significant step forward in the history of this Parliament and, indeed, in the history of this island.
Prime Minister, your very presence here today symbolises the ever maturing nature and, indeed, the coming of age of the relationship between our two countries. Down through the years I doubt very much if any Member of either House envisaged a day when a British Prime Minister would be present among us and addressing both Houses of the Irish Parliament.
You are welcome, Prime Minister, in more ways than one. Normally at this time I would be taking the Order of Business with many points of order ringing in my ears and Members jumping up to catch my eye — clearly your presence has had a calming effect on Members, which I have not noticed when you are in the House of Commons.
The history shared between our respective countries may have been troubled in the past but history has also left its mark in many positive ways — our system of public administration owes much of its origin to the British system and nowhere is that more evident today than here in our Parliament. Ireland has a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy which owes so much not alone to the founding fathers of this State but also to the basic bedrock of British parliamentary tradition. We have taken the best but not all of your system. We have PR but we do not have hereditary membership, much to the regret of some Members.
 Our people have always shared a unique relationship which is evident in so many ways such as through the thriving Irish community which has found a home from home in your country and is also to be found in the wider partnership we share as members of the European Union.
One of your distinguished predecessors, the great statesman Gladstone, paid a private visit here in 1877, when he was out of office, long before it became our Parliament.
It was Gladstone who as Prime Minister bravely adopted the cause of home rule for Ireland at a time of prevailing imperial convictions and attitudes. As he wound up his speech to the Commons before the vote on the first Home Rule Bill in 1886 he reflected:
This is one of the golden moments of our history, one of those opportunities which may come and may go, but which rarely return, or if they return, return at long intervals, and under circumstances which no man can forecast.
That aspiration has a particular meaning for us today. The Good Friday Agreement was the culmination of almost two years of negotiation, but in a wider sense it was the product of over two decades of close partnership between the two Governments, working together to forge a lasting and peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland.
The occasion of your address is, indeed, a noble salute to that momentous achievement — which both you and your predecessor, the Taoiseach, his predecessors and party leaders, including former party leaders present in this Chamber, played such a crucial role, not forgetting, of course, the contribution of President Clinton and Senator Mitchell and the parties in Northern Ireland, without whose commitment, determination and vision there would have been no Agreement. The British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body also played its part.
In particular, you can be rightly proud of your own personal contribution to the success of the Agreement. Your leadership, Prime Minister, especially in the final week of the Agreement's negotiations, was greatly appreciated by all, not least those in this House. We know you are continuing to show the same vision and determination as we all work to implement the Agreement in its entirety.
The overwhelming democratic endorsement of the Agreement demonstrates the clear desire of the people of this island for change to a better and brighter future. Seamus Heaney wrote:
Once in a lifetime,
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.
Prime Minister, by your contribution to peace on this island, hope and history do indeed rhyme as the dark days are hopefully forever in the past and a new dawn of peace and reconciliation beckons forth, as we go, in the poignant words of Omagh victim, young Seán McLaughlin, “Across the bridge of hope”.
Prime Minister, it is with these heartfelt sentiments I now invite you to address the joint sitting of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.
Dáil Éireann 497