Monday, June 17, 2013

US president to urge school pupils to work towards more shared society in North

US president Barack Obama is expected to urge Northern Ireland schoolchildren to work for a more shared society, and to call for the eventual removal of Belfast’s peace walls. Photograph: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Dan Keenan

Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 01:00

First published:Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 01:00

US president Barack Obama visits Belfast this morning to press for renewed efforts to end community division in Northern Ireland.

Accompanied by Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha, he will address an invited audience of some 1,500 school pupils aged 16 and over from schools across the city and elsewhere in the North.

It is understood he will call on them to work for a more shared society and the eventual removal of Belfast’s peace walls.

The Obamas arrive at Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove, Co Antrim, following their overnight flight from Washington and are expected to transfer by air to City Airport, a short distance from the Waterfront Hall where the president is due to speak.

Michelle Obama will then depart for Dublin where she is to attend a number of engagements. It is expected there will be widespread disruption to traffic in the centre of the capital today and tomorrow to facilitate the movement of Ms Obama and her daughters.

The Belfast visit was announced last month following the publication by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of plans for a more cohesive society 15 years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

Last week British prime minister David Cameron praised plans to remove the last of the peace lines that segregate nationalist and loyalist areas of Belfast.

The US, a long-standing supporter of integrated education in Northern Ireland, is understood to be particularly keen to press for further progress on combating sectarianism and for the removal of the 100 or so peace walls.

Mr Obama used his meeting with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at the White House during St Patrick’s week to insist: “There’s a lot more work to be done before there’s true unity . . .”


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