US president Barack Obama has pointed to the Irish peace process as the example many other trouble spots in the world can learn from.
He described it also as an example of what US and British collaboration can achieve and the peace process was an example of what can be achieved when the US and Britain work together.
Obama was speaking at a town hall-style meeting in London, and said he was pleased that “tribal mentalities” were disappearing in Northern Ireland where there is now a power sharing government something impossible to imagine just a few years ago.
Obama was in Westminster district for the Town Hall meeting and took questions from audience members, mostly young people. A young woman from Northern Ireland asked the first question (on You Tube video starting at 14 minutes in) Obama spoke for four minutes on it.
He was asked about the role America has played in the peace process and Obama stated it was a “story of perseverance” and said “folks are working these issues through."
He added: “What’s interesting is the degree to which the example of peacemaking in Northern Ireland is now inspiring others.
“So in Colombia and Latin America right now they’re trying to undergo a peace process and they’ve actually brought people from Northern Ireland to come and describe how you overcome years of enmity and hatred and intolerance, and try to shape a country that is unified.”
“One of the things that you’ve seen in Northern Ireland that’s most important is the very simple act of recognizing the humanity of those on the other side of the argument.
“Having empathy and a sense of connection with people who are not like you. requires “forging a new identity that is about being from Northern Ireland as opposed to being Unionist or Sinn Féin”.
He said Ireland was an important example of peacebuilding at a challenging time.
“This is a challenging time to do that because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now, because things are changing so fast, there’s a temptation to forge identities, tribal identities, that give you a sense of certainty, a buffer against change.
“And that’s something, our young people, they have to fight against, whether you’re talking about Africa, or the Middle East, or NorthernIreland, or Burma.
“The forces that lead to the most violence and the most injustice typically spring out of people saying ‘I want to feel important by dividing the world into us and them. And then threatens me, and so I’ve got to make sure that my tribe strikes out first’.
“And fighting that mentality and that impulse requires us to begin very young with our kids.
“One of the most encouraging things in Northern Ireland is children starting to go to school together and having a sense that we’re all in this together, as opposed to it’s us against them,” he said.
Obama said the transatlantic relationship was better that ever especially since the time the British “burned down my house” — a reference to the ransacking and burning of the White House in the war of 1812-1814.