Táim búioch as ucht an deis seo a bheith agam an Bill seo a chur ós chomhair an Tí.
It gives me great pleasure to bring before the House an historic Bill that seeks to honour the fine work of a friend of Ireland. The George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Bill acknowledges the efforts of a man who has contributed much to the cause of peace on this island. Simultaneously, it brings into existence a scholarship fund which will enrich the lives of young people for generations to come and strengthen the close bonds between Ireland and the United States of America.
I am sure we have all heard of the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. In almost a century of existence, it has allowed some of the world's finest minds to live the Oxford experience and to circulate in an educational ambit of which they might otherwise have been ignorant. It has consistently proved itself of immense benefit to the individual scholar, his or her Oxford college and to society as a whole. Its prestige is unrivalled. Former recipients include world leaders and some of the most eminent writers and thinkers of our time.
I am proud to bring before the House a Bill to establish our version of the Rhodes Scholarship — the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. Once in operation, this programme will allow young American scholars to experience the Irish higher education system and to contribute their energies and talents to it. The individual scholar will benefit, the Irish higher education system will benefit and the ties between Ireland and the United States will be further strengthened. All of these benefits will accrue, while establishing a permanent reminder of the good works of Senator Mitchell on our behalf.
George Mitchell has had a celebrated career, not only as a senator and lawyer, but as a peacemaker. His was the guiding hand behind the Good Friday Agreement. His principles set the tone for that Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland bears the stamp of his integrity. Through his efforts, and those of General de Chastelain and Prime Minister Harri Holkeri, we have seen unprecedented change in the way our two traditions regard each other and in the way they regard themselves. We have seen Unionist and Nationalist come together at the table of Government. We have seen the leader of unionism standing side by side with the Taoiseach on the steps of Government Buildings. In addition, Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first British Prime Minister to address the Oireachtas. These were historic moments, images without precedent in the course of Irish history.
The people of Ireland have endorsed the Good Friday Agreement as the only legitimate charter to guide and direct our efforts now and for the future as we seek to build a new agreed Ireland, North and South. The voice of the people, spoken by the living representatives of the two great traditions of this island, has redefined Ireland. Their collective verdict transcends not just the Anglolrish Agreement but the whole 1920-21 settlement.
The endorsement of the people allows us all to approach the new millennium with hope and optimism that we have bridged the divisions of the past and that we can now begin the work of building true and lasting peace and prosperity together on this island. Bertrand Russell said the only thing that would redeem mankind was co-operation. It is precisely that realisation, together with the resilience and vision of Senator Mitchell, that has brought us to where we are today. The idea that Nationalists and Unionists could sit together in the same chamber as part of a putative power-sharing arrangement, would have seemed farfetched only a few short years ago. Yet, there is an assembly in Northern Ireland, there has been an agreement and there is a First and Deputy First Minister. Co-operation is on the agenda and redemption is within reach.
It required people of vision to advance the North from 30 years of stalemate to a position of hope. Visionaries on both sides of the politicocultural divide have seen the opportunity for progress and, guided by Senator Mitchell's tenacity, have taken us to the cusp of a new era. Uniquely, he has helped us to help ourselves and the people of Ireland, North and South, have every reason to be grateful to him.
It is appropriate that we honour the good works of Senator Mitchell with the establishment of this scholarship in his name. In the same way that he has helped us to seek out the best in ourselves, this scholarship will reward the best, mostrounded young people of their generations, cementing the bonds between Ireland and the United States. It will also be seen as a declaration — a statement that we have learned from the errors of the past and that we are prepared to embark on a new era of co-operation, internationally and at home. I commend this Bill to the House in the name of tolerance, progress and reconciliation.