Northern Ireland

President Obama urges next generation of Northern Ireland leaders to forge 'new identity'

Mr Obama was responding to a question from Cliona McCarney, 21, from Belfast Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Obama was responding to a question from Cliona McCarney, 21, from Belfast

US President Barack Obama has urged the next generation of political leaders in Northern Ireland to forge a "new identity" and to decide the "country as a whole is more important than any particular faction or any particular flag".

Mr Obama was speaking in London to an audience of young people.

He was responding to a question from Cliona McCarney, 21, from Belfast.

She asked him about the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Obama said: "You know better than I do, but one of the things you see in Northern Ireland that's most important is the very simple act of recognising the humanity of those on the other side of the argument.

"Having empathy and a sense of connection to people who are not like you.

"That has taken time, but you are now seeing that among young people who are interacting more.

"It requires forging a new identity that is about being from Northern Ireland as opposed to unionist or Sinn Féin, just deciding the country as a whole is more important than any particular faction or any particular flag.

"This is a challenging time to do that because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now."

Image caption Cliona McCarney, 21, from Belfast, tweeted to say she had been honoured to ask a question to Mr Obama

The US President said "one of the most encouraging things" he had seen in Northern Ireland was "children starting to go to school together and having a sense of we are all in this together as opposed to it is us against them".

"It is going to take some time, it will depend on leaders like you to make it happen," he added.

"No pressure, you are going to be fine, you are going to do it."

Ms McCarney later tweeted to say she had been honoured to ask a question to Mr Obama.

Caolán Faux, from Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh, was also part of the audience and said Mr Obama was "everything you could have hoped for in terms of how he spoke".

"He engages really well and there was no sort of distance between himself and the audience.

"He gave the impression that he had time to spare on the people on the room, which was massive and I think that was a huge part of his success as president throughout his term in office."

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