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Speaking to Northern Ireland's assembly during a recent trip to Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged lawmakers to persevere in the full realization of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that helped bring an end to decades of ethno-political violence in Northern Ireland.
The historic power-sharing agreement between Protestants and Catholics has seen its share of difficulties, in part, due to a dispute over transferring authority over the police and the courts from London to Belfast.
Security in Northern Ireland also remains an issue. Last March, 2 British soldiers and a policeman were killed in politically motivated shootings. "These killings ...," said Secretary Clinton, "remind us that there are still those looking to seize any opportunity to undermine the [peace] process and to destabilize the government."
"The divisions within Northern Ireland," said Secretary Clinton, "are not fully healed. Even today, many Catholics and Protestants live segregated lives: separate schools, separate neighborhoods, some still divided by walls." But Northern Ireland can move beyond that. A big part of the answer lies in completing the devolution process -- the transfer of political power from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Peace in Northern Ireland has spurred economic growth. Since the ceasefire of the 1990s, the number of U.S. companies in Northern Ireland has increased by 150 percent. And U.S. investment has increased employment by creating 20,000 jobs in Northern Ireland since 1994. Now, in the face of an economic downturn, it is especially critical that Northern Ireland not waver in its commitment to a permanent peace. For its part, the U.S. has named a new economic envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, to help generate additional U.S. investment in Northern Ireland.
Members of Northern Ireland's Assembly have the power to secure the peace and sustain it for generations to come. "I pledge," said Secretary Clinton, "that [the U.S.] will stand with you as you do the hard work of building a future of peace and prosperity for people who so richly deserve it."