17 October 2014
(As prepared for delivery)
DCM DIBBLE: Thank you very much for a typically warm welcome to Belfast. I always enjoy coming here and it’s great to be back again.
What an honor to be with you; and to be able to offer my congratulations in person to all of you this evening on 20 years of the Study USA program.
When it first got going back in 1994, everything looked a bit different. I for one certainly did.
And Northern Ireland was a very different place, of course. But the momentum for peace was already beginning to build.
Away from public gaze, many groups and individuals were taking risks or making difficult sacrifices in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow.
Thousands of miles away in the United States, members of the Inter-Church Forum on Northern Ireland met to discuss how they might help realize this dream.
And how wonderful to have some of them with us this evening and I’m thrilled that their contribution has been rightly acknowledged.
What they decided, of course, was that Northern Ireland’s best hope lay with its young people – the next generation as it were.
Their idea of an educational exchange embodied the belief that students would bring new experiences, perspectives, and knowledge back home.
And that, in turn, this might help build a society where historic divisions were not only reconciled but ultimately irrelevant.
Today, the profound contribution that Study USA participants make to economic and civic life in Northern Ireland is tribute to that vision.
It would not be possible, of course, without the continued backing of Northern Ireland’s Department of Employment and Learning – so thank you Minister Farry.
Nor, as has been mentioned, without the support from the British Council in Northern Ireland.
I also want to add my thanks for the continued support in America from the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and the General Board for Higher Education & Ministry.
But above all, this evening is about celebrating the Study USA alumni themselves.
Looking at your exploits since you returned, it’s clear that you are playing an important role in building a more prosperous, confident, and reconciled Northern Ireland.
For that you deserve thanks and praise.
But it is important also to recognize that this role you have is ongoing.
Because even though Northern Ireland is now clearly a better place to live and to do business…
…and while it would be nice to think that division and disagreement are all in the past, the stark truth is that they are not.
More – much more – needs still to be done.
The talks underway this week demonstrate that the peace process remains unfinished business.
Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that a return to the darkest days in Northern Ireland’s history is imminent or likely.
Since the beginning, America has walked alongside you in your collective effort to bring political, economic, and social progress to the region.
We continue to do so — and we continue to remain upbeat about what can still be achieved here.
But there remains a threat to the peace process.
One that I believe is less likely to come from bombs and bullets, as it is from what could be described as a culture of complacency.
As the first generation untouched by direct experience of The Troubles comes of age, there has to be a renewed commitment not to return to the days of hardened attitudes and bitter prejudices.
So we look to you, the beneficiaries of Study USA, to complete the task of securing a lasting peace for Northern Ireland — and the stability and prosperity that we know will follow.
And if that’s not enough of a challenge, there is another goal that I want to set for you this evening.
And there you were thinking you were just coming along for a good meal, a bit of a chat with old friends, and a few relaxing drinks!
From your time in America — learning about different attitudes, seeing new horizons, and encountering alternative approaches — you have gained valuable understanding of the world beyond this city and this island.
Such experiences are a privilege – and they come with great responsibility.
Because one lesson that I have learned from my time as a diplomat serving around the world, including in areas as riven by internal discord as here, is this: Conflict and division can leave people — understandably concerned by and immersed in their own problems — facing inward.
In today’s tumultuous times, that would be a mistake.
Today, issues such as the economy, security, and disease affect us all — wherever we live, whatever our faith, whether we are rich or poor, learned or uneducated, old or young.
No longer can we remain immune or isolated from events elsewhere in the world.
Take the banking crisis of 2008. It taught us that what happens in the financial sector of one country, affects the economies of every country.
Likewise, the painful lesson of ISIL’s barbarity is that its foreign fighters do not just cross moral boundaries but international ones too.
And the recent Ebola outbreak which is devastating communities across West Africa is traveling as fast as a jet liner and already claiming lives in Europe and the United States.
Our complex and interrelated world means, therefore, that we all share an interest in overcoming the global challenges that face us.
And no one has a greater stake in the outcome than you do.
So it’s not just Northern Ireland; the world needs your leadership, your energy, and your ideas.
As President Obama recognized in his landmark speech in Cairo, young people “more than anyone; have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world”.
We’ve seen many positive examples of this already from the early protests of the Arab Spring to today’s pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
So I believe that we will only be as strong in this new century as the opportunities we provide to the younger generation to act on the world stage.
On that front, the prospects for Northern Ireland appear – from an outsider’s perspective – to be very promising.
This world class visitor center, and the wider Titanic Quarter, is a perfect illustration.
It tells a story, not just about Belfast’s proud industrial heritage, but also about its rejuvenation and its bold vision for the future.
In the very shadow of the first U.S. Consulate here — established in 1796 — the infrastructure and facilities are now the envy of many leading global cities.
Transatlantic trade that once involved flax and cotton now connects us through industries as diverse as financial services and film-making.
Experts in nearby institutions like the Northern Ireland Science Park are inspiring many Americans with their innovation and entrepreneurship.
Then there is the U.S.-Ireland R&D Partnership, which I know Minister Farry is passionate about — and which is bringing extraordinary benefits to Northern Ireland and beyond.
These are just a few of the many ongoing initiatives.
Suffice to say, I pay tribute to all those in business and academia intent on expanding this region’s international ties and encouraging young people to think as global citizens.
Because the key to continued progress is to keep looking outward.
Turning inwards is both cynical and counter-productive – which is as true for the United States as it is for Northern Ireland.
Retreating from the world, refusing to undertake our global responsibilities, will only end up undermining our interests and our values across the board.
On the other hand, if we meet our responsibilities then we will reap the reward of greater global prosperity and security.
Not only that — as globalization and modern technology makes the world increasingly inter-connected, I believe that we simply cannot be bystanders.
Thanks to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, you are already interacting with the world in a way that my generation just couldn’t.
As a result, you are — as President Obama said at the Belfast Waterfront last year: “A generation keenly aware of the world as it is, but eager to forge the world as it should be.”
So I encourage you not to be onlookers — but to be players.
To engage fully with your world. To be idealistic, yet realistic. To see the challenges faced by the global community as your challenges.
Many of you are already making your marks here in Northern Ireland.
Keep doing so.
At the very least, make sure you give something back to the Study USA program that has given you such a great head-start through the new alumni association.
But my broader message tonight is that you do not have to wait to make a difference on the global stage.
Your country and your world need your leadership now.
That will be a defining and fitting legacy of Study USA.
And as you look out to the world, so the world will look back.
Trust me, they will like what they see.