Best opportunity for peace in 25 years

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The Independent Online
This is an extract from the text of the Prime Minister's opening address at Stormont:

Your presence in these talks is vital - whether you come from the Unionist or the nationalist tradition, or neither. Your success at the ballot box has confirmed your right to be here, and to participate in what, if we wish it to be so, may turn out to be an historic new start ...

May I finally welcome the readiness to assist of Senator George Mitchell, General John de Chastelain and former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri. In response to our invitation, they have kindly indicated their willingness to help in those parts of the negotiations where independent chairmanship is needed. It is not an easy role but it is an indispensable one.

Today we launch a new opportunity to reach lasting peace in Northern Ireland. I believe these negotiations can give a fresh start to relations between the communities here and more widely. I hope they will prove a turning-point for the better in the history of Northern Ireland ...

For too long the history of Northern Ireland has poisoned the present and threatened the future. It is time to end all that, however difficult it may be. History has involved too many victims. Too much blood has been spilt. For too long violence became so much a part of the political background that it almost began to be taken for granted.

Recently we have seen what a Northern Ireland without violence can be like ...

As we meet here today, the hopes and expectations of the people of Northern Ireland rest on your shoulders. That is a heavy responsibility. And there is no doubt the people of Northern Ireland want these talks to succeed.

They want a life that others take for granted. They want to be able to live their lives normally, free from violence and the threat of violence. They want jobs and prosperity. They want to be able to educate their children without fear. They want to live their lives without restrictions, whether in shop, cinema or pub. They want to live with their neighbours peacefully and without hatred, and to be respected, whatever their beliefs or views.

Our aim was all-party negotiations. We have not entirely achieved that. One party which achieved success in the elections is absent through its own choice. I hope that wisdom will soon prevail, and that we will see an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire.

Without such a ceasefire Sinn Fein cannot be present at these talks. The British and Irish governments are entirely at one on this. I also believe that we have the support of our two peoples and of the international community for this position. It will not change.

The absence of such a ceasefire, and the continuing willingness to rely on violence which it shows, is in stark contrast to the commitment to democracy and peace shown by those here today ...

There have been many attempts to make progress towards an agreed settlement ... But I believe the talks beginning today represent the best opportunity for peace in the last 25 years. I urge you all to take this opportunity with both hands. History will not forgive us if we do not.

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