Obama’s “Peace comes dropping slow (but not necessarily *this* slow)” speech in Belfast…

So, Obama’s speech? As Fionnuala O’Connor pointed out on BBC NI yesterday comparisons with past speeches are ill-placed. When Clinton spoke in 1995, she argued there was a lot riding on it. There was virtually nothing riding on Obama’s delivery yesterday.

The regular mis-pronunciations were testament to the downgrading of Northern Ireland both in the President’s own strategic hierarchy and the amount of resources set aside for it at State.

As Barak headed west to Fermanagh, Michelle wasted no time heading south for dinner in Dublin, a run out to Wicklow with the girls this morning to be followed by lunch in Dalkey with Bono…

The speech itself was long, like preacher asked to deliver 5 O’Clock Mass in some parish he’d barely heard of before, he sounded tired half way through.

As Mark Devenport notes, it was general enough to keep everyone happy, not least the new Lord Mayor, who’s US commercial interests will not be harmed by the fact that he was one of the few not to suffer the mangling of his own Irish name…

Though Mark also notes, the insertion of a passage on integrated education was perhaps a result of a misbriefing somewhere along with the way, we don’t have any plans for scaling up integrated education, just building them all nice and close, but with the institutional walls still firmly intact…

it’s worth thinking back to the last visit by a US dignitary – Hillary Clinton’s farewell tour.

Mrs Clinton arrived in the teeth of the union flag dispute and it took some fancy diplomatic footwork to ensure her Stormont Castle presser didn’t descend into recriminations between the first and deputy first ministers.

Having a repeat performance with the president in town would not have been an option, so although the G8 agenda has very little to do with Northern Ireland, to that extent this summit has influenced the course of Stormont politics.

Contrast the celebration of ‘coming out in the world’ of Bill Clinton’s 1995 speech at Mackies, or the forensic focus of George Bush’s envoys, Mitchell Reiss and Richard Hass with the simpler fare of the only public park in Europe that’s divided by a wall

Yet there are a few lines worth picking out:

no one was naïve enough to believe that peace would be anything but a long journey. Yeats once wrote “Peace comes dropping slow.” But that doesn’t mean our efforts to forge a real and lasting peace should come dropping slow. This work is as urgent now as it has ever been, because there’s more to lose now than there has ever been.

And then Colum McCann’s lines from the NYT in March (H/T Patricia):

“Peace is indeed harder than war,” the Irish author Colum McCann recently wrote. “And its constant fragility is part of its beauty. A bullet need happen only once, but for peace to work we need to be reminded of its existence again and again and again.”

Though Michael Longley once put it more comprehensively:

It’s how we interact with one another, civilization. On the one hand, I’m interested in how we avoid tearing one another to pieces. Peace is not that, peace is the absence of that, peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization.

Civilization is custom and manners and ceremony, the things that Yeats says in “A Prayer for My Daughter.” We have a vocabulary of how to deal with one another and how to behave, a vocabulary of behavior, as well as things to say to one another . . . and out of that come laws and agreed ways of doing things .

Some of the simpler things are worth remembering…

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  • I thought it was a good speech.

    Your previous point about “talking over the heads of the political classes” was important, I thought.

    This was a speech for young people and I couldn’t help but feel reinforced in my opinion that the current political ‘elite’ have got us so far, but that they have hit a wall. Too many old divisions lie and hopefully the next 5-10 years will see a pretty significant transition in the nature of our politicians. Time to give way to a new generation with greater possibilities for compromise and agreement (and consequently peace and prosperity).

    There are many retirements that I will be very glad to see in the next while.

  • I dont know if Nobel Peace Prize Winner was name-checked yesterday but if Hume, Trimble Paisley and Adams were mentioned, she certainly deserved to be.
    I am one of those who would say that the Peace People were naive, maybe even exploited but the fact remains that she is a Nobel Laureate.
    I cant recall her being mentioned.
    But was she even invited?
    Did she decline it to protest American policies at the Belfast City Hall yesterday.
    A darling of the Establishment in 1976, Mairead Corrigan is now a marginalised figure and she still takes Peace seriously….enough to outrage Americans and Israelis.
    Regardless of the merit of her stances in 2013, the lesson for 2,500 people patronised by Barak Obama is that you can pretty soon be dropped if you turn out to be the WRONG kinda Peace Person.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…the current political ‘elite’ have got us so far, but they have hit a wall.”

    I’ve heard this line of thinking privately from some politically engaged folk in the Republic recently. Like Gordon Brown, the long single minded pursuit of high office was not presaged with much thought about what he might do with it when it got it.

    Continuance of the struggle by those who are paid to do ‘government’, has not had many happy consequences.

    Take the attacks on the police during the flag protest. By helping orchestrate the protests themselves, the FM’s party found himself with no alternative but to join in the chorus.

    The political gaming of the police by SF in the Padraig Wilson case (http://goo.gl/8a2qz) stands in marked contrast with Peadar Toibin’s view (http://goo.gl/uSJPK) that “there should not be a relationship between politics and policing…”

    Make no mistake, the political vacuum it helps to re-enforce at the heart of things is very dangerous indeed.

    But at root, I think, these are cases of not really knowing what to with the institutions we have, and a rigid mindset that has difficulty adjusting to the comprising demands of a ‘long peace’…

    The devil will always make work for idle hands…

  • Granni Trixie

    Although I thought Obamas set piece was cliche ridden, I thoufht that on Tv Fionnulla OConnir came across as unnecessarilly ungracious and snarky.

    What I did like was that in talking to young people Obama and his wife they were getting at leading politicians for their half hearted attempts to do the work required after the GFA. I like to thnk they were squirming in their seats.

  • son of sam

    Arising from F J H above,were any representatives from the smaller Assembly parties invited along yesterday.When the photo of Sammy and Gerry was published,the song “Send in the Clowns ” came to mind.At least Peter and Martin got maximum coverage .Lets hope there is a subsequent benefit.

  • Mick Fealty

    FJH is just asking speculative questions. Whilst Sammy and Gerry were ‘having the craic” together, Mike and Alasdair were also sitting together… Pretty sure all Executive parties were there… And just as sure no one could really have excluded them…

  • There were certainly young people there from political parties.
    Id expect the guest list included several politicians.
    But as always how the VIP Guest List was made up would be interesting.

  • The seeming marginalisation of a Nobel Peace Laureate from 35 years ago..when Peace was not exactly popular …is surely an insult to all those people ( mostly women from working class areas) who walked on the Shankill and Falls Road and completely exposes the sham of Obamas concern for the Process.
    Have we now got so many Nobel Peace Laureates that some can simply be ignored?

  • pauluk

    One common theme that has emerged from Obama’s many ‘wonderful’ speeches around the world is that they are almost instantly quite forgettable; except for the times when he quotes what someone else has said or written. His two most memorable phases are: Let me be clear…, which usually introduces a whopper or a straw man, and, It’s George Bush’s fault.

    Future historians will look back and wonder how it was that so many seem to have been taken in by his vacuous and boring boilerplate rhetoric.

  • son of sam

    Presumably Mairead Corrigan -Maguires attitude to an invitation to listen to Obama would be that of Groucho Marx—-“I refuse to be a member of any club that would have me”!

  • I think PaulUK is right.
    There is something historic about Obama. It cant be denied.
    Unfortunately he is a bad President.
    He makes great speeches…but thats all he actually does.
    History will not be kind.

    As to “Son of Sams” point. Quite possibly Mairead Corrigan would have declined the invite. Did she get one. Surely it would have been extraordinary if a Nobel Peace Laureate was not invited…bearing in mind that Peace was the theme.
    Mr Fealty describes my questions as speculative….Id say the questions ate legitimate.

  • Mick Fealty


    Well, no one is stopping you from asking them… 🙂

  • I did.
    I am a mere civilian.
    There are people in the compliant Norn Iron media who might be able to do it much more professionally. But as usual…they wont.

  • son of sam

    Is there no end to the ubiquity of Eamon Mc Cann?He turns up on Both Spotlight and U T V Live with his special take on the G 8.Obviously a gift to tv producers!

  • Gopher

    Fionnuala O’Connor, what can one say you know her opinion on every given subject.

    Agree with the sentiment that it is time for a lot of politicians and commentators like Fionnulala to exit stage left, they are stagnant emotionally and rationally. No fan of Obama and nope it wenrt Gettysburg address but bearing in mind we are 1.9 million people constantly with our hands out and whining about everyone else’s failings with more nuances than you could shake a stick at I thought he fairly much stated the obvious in the nicest possible way.

  • Mick Fealty


  • BluesJazz

    Plagiarsm comes in many forms, NIO google:


    Now someone may say it has taken a long time, but as one great Irish writer, William Butler Yeats once wrote, “peace comes dropping slow. We in Ireland don’t mind how slow, as long as it comes.”

  • Taoiseach

    Foreign politican visits and attacks the education system of the vast majority of children. Meanwhile he sends his own children to a private school at $35,000 a year.

  • Obama has been a great disappointment to me for the past 3 years (of no importance, I know) and I’m sure, to many Americans (of no importance either since this is the last time he can be POTUS).
    His actions/inactions makes his award of the Nobel Peace prize a total mystery.

  • pauluk

    Obama may, or may not, be able to give a good speech, but one thing is certain, he’s absolutely woeful at foreign policy implementation.

    Dithering and confused on Syria, frosty relations with Putin, ignoring Karzai with predictable results, gullible in regards to the Taliban and now annoying even Angela. I suppose this is what you get when you put a habitual self-promoting Amateur in the White House.

  • Brian Walker


    I did say most of this within two hours of the speech in Monday, kind sir.. The misspeaks I put down to lack of time to rehearse. Slight jarring notes a professional drafter would notice… The total all-Ireland context and no refs to UK and UK/Ireland relations ; equating sharing with integration; and differences not being “objective reality.”

    On the other hand, Craic” (remember when this used to be plain crack) and “Matt Baggot” namecheck were obviously considered. I would suppose these were all taken from a US Consulate draft and stitched together at the last minute. I guess he was confident enough to busk the Waterfront.

    Irish America doesn’t seem ever to have been part of his political turf and he was content to leave it to Hillary on behalf of the administration in his first term, almost as her personal pet project. I noted she referred to him only once in her speech to the Assembly last year.

    Belfast was a sidebar. He had bigger things on his mind!

    Would be ever have made a special visit without G8? Probably not. But unavoidable under the circumstances and as courtesy to Cameron for locating it so boldly on Lough Erne.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well indeed. I held off after your post because you pretty much captured the most salient points.But I wanted to get Longley and McCann chiming…

  • CiaranM

    Oh please folks, do try to disentangle your minds from power.

    Why would anyone, with a smidgen of independence of mind, treat the words of the marketing award winning ‘Brand Obama’ with anything but utter contempt?

    Right across the breadth of our local mainstream political-media spectrum, the whole nauseatingly sycophantic commentary was framed in a manner that precluded a look at the crimes of this deceptive man and his blood soaked empire.

    Surely, the first thing any free and independent media would do, is interrogate the credibility of a man who speaks so beautifully but murders so mercilessly.

    I’ll leave the last words to the late Harold Pinter:

    “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless, and fully documented but nobody talks about them.”

  • @Mr. Joe,

    “His actions/inactions makes his award of the Nobel Peace prize a total mystery.”

    While considering that he had been in office for only 11 days when he received the Nobel Prize I think you are quite right. I wrote to Hillary Clinton at the time and suggested that she suggest to him that he hold a press conference and split the prize money between Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, who were both in his administration. Holbrooke mediated peace in Bosnia and Mitchell in NI. But most of the Oslo Committee’s Nobel Peace Prize selections are a mystery. It took Carter over two decades before he won a peace prize after mediating the Camp David Accords. Many columnists suggested at the time that the Nobel Prize would be more of a burden to Obama than an award and I think that they were quite right. I think it has been a burden that he has borne quite well though.