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Blair Addresses Irish Parliament

November 26, 1998 GMT

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ In the first speech ever by a British prime minister to an Irish parliament, Tony Blair predicted Thursday that Northern Ireland’s troubled peace accord would ultimately work because of a strengthened cooperative spirit uniting Britain and Ireland.

``Like it or not, we, the British and the Irish, are irredeemably linked,″ Blair said, winning standing ovations that symbolized the best relations between the two once-bitterly divided countries since the Irish Republic won independence from Britain in 1922.

Blair walked into the packed chamber side by side with his increasingly close friend, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. The two men together negotiated around the clock in Belfast to help broker April’s accord among eight Northern Ireland parties.

Blair thanked Ahern and his government for ``living up to your side of the bargain″ by dropping the Irish Republic’s territorial claim to Northern Ireland, long a sore point for the north’s British Protestant majority.

``It is time now for all the parties to live up to all their commitments,″ he said in reference to Protestant politicians’ refusal to form a coalition government that includes the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, and the Irish Republican Army’s own refusal to start disarming, both goals contained in the accord.

``I am not asking anyone to surrender. I am asking everyone to declare the victory of peace,″ Blair said.

Watching from the public gallery was Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who later delivered his own largely critical assessment of the peace process in a speech to Dublin business people.

Adams lauded Blair as ``the British prime minister who can change Anglo-Irish relations utterly,″ but noted that conflicts are hobbling the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Blair emphasized the growing political, cultural and business links binding together a Britain ``emerging from its post-empire malaise″ and ``a modern, open″ Ireland. He noted that several million of Britain’s 55 million residents were Irish, while hundreds of thousands of Britons vacationed in Ireland annually.

``We’ve both grown up now,″ Blair said. ``A new generation is in power in each country. And we now have a real opportunity to put our relations on a completely new footing, not least through working together in Europe.″

He emphasized: ``The old ways are changing between London and Dublin. And this can spur the change and healing in Northern Ireland too.″