US President Barack Obama has said that his administration will always support the peace process in Northern Ireland during his address at the Waterfront Hall.
Crowds cheered on Monday morning as the President Barack Obama arrived at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast just after 9.30 am.
Several thousand people, mostly students, were in the Waterfront ahead of the G8 summit hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in Co Fermanagh.
The long wait for invited guests started a spontaneous Mexican Wave throughout the Waterfront Hall.
Methodist College Belfast student Hannah Nelson, 16, sharing a platform with President Obama at the Waterfront.
In an inspirational address, Hannah told the packed Waterfront Hall: “We should not let the past pull us apart and stop us from moving forward.”
Hannah was followed by the United States’ First Lady Michelle Obama who got a raucous standing ovation.
She told her audience: “When I was your age, I never dreamed I would be standing here as First Lady of the United States. We are so proud of you.”
Mrs Obama then introduced her husband Barack Obama to the stage.
To a rapturous reception, the US President said: “Thank you very much. Hello Belfast. Hello Northern Ireland. What’s the craic?
“We wanted to come to Northern Ireland because it is a place of remarkable beauty.”
He paid tribute to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness for the work in the Stormont Executive.
And he also paid tribute to PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott for keeping Northern Ireland safe.
He urged young people to tear down the divisions and segregation in society a build a new and lasting peace.
The President added: “The achievement of peace in Northern Ireland gives the whole world hope.
“We need to get this right.
“Peace is not just about politics. It’s about attitudes.
“We need to change attitudes. It is within your power to bring about change.
“The fate of peace is up to each of us. This peace in Northern Ireland has been tested over the past 15 years. It has been tested over this past year.
“You will have to choose to go forwards not backwards. As long as you keep going forward, we will still support you.
“Jobs and opportunities are important for peace.
“Progress is essential to peace.
“We will always be with you. We will always be a wind at your back.
“Good luck. God bless you. And God bless all the people of Northern Ireland,” he concluded.
The President received a standing ovation and ‘presses the flesh’ of members of the audience standing behind him.
Following his speech, Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: “I thought it was a very inspirational, motivational speech.”
Outside in Oxford Street, a number of anti-G8 protestors had gathered near the Laganside Courthouse complex.
However, a police presence has kept them back from the Waterfront Hall.
The US President touched down at Belfast International Airport in his Air Force One jumbo plane just after 8.30 am accompanied by his wife Michelle and children.
He boarded a Marine One helicopter which flew him to the George Best Belfast City Airport.
The President and his entourage were then be whisked by a cavalcade of armoured cars to the Waterfront Hall in Oxford Street.
His cavalcade will head back to the George Best City Airport where his Marine One helicopter will take him to Co Fermanagh for the G8 summit talks.
Mr Obama is only the third serving US president to visit Northern Ireland, following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton and George Bush.
While Mr Bush’s visits in 2003 and 2008 were post-9/11 and security conscious, Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary enjoyed the hope blooming just a year after the paramilitary ceasefires.
Their 1995 trip to Belfast was aimed at giving a boost to the still fragile peace process.
Peace will also be on Mr Obama’s mind when, introduced by his wife Michelle, he gives a keynote address to an audience at the Waterfront Hall on Monday morning.
Speaking to 1,500 young people and around 500 other invited guests, the president will hail Northern Ireland’s progress.
Security does remains tight throughout the city ahead of the visit, with some roads affected by closures and a no-fly zone also in place – although commercial air traffic should not be affected.
While Mr Obama will afterwards head to the Lough Erne Resort for talks with eight of the world’s most powerful leaders, the First Lady and daughters Malia and Sasha will travel to Dublin.
Before the first full session of the G8 summit, Mr Obama and Mr Cameron will meet to discuss issues like the ongoing situation in Syria – with the US and UK concerned by chemical weaponry.
The conflict will also be among the topics on the agenda when all eight leaders meet on Monday evening, and again when Mr Obama later holds bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The G8 talks – also taking in the three T’s of tax, trade and transparency – will be held inside a veritable ring of steel near Enniskillen.
Around 8,000 police officers will be on duty during the course of the summit.
While Saturday’s anti-G8 protest passed off peacefully, with much lower than anticipated numbers, further demonstrations are expected to be held.