Category: Archive

Bertie About Town

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

President Clinton is packing his bags for a swansong visit to Ireland, this time in December.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern emerged from a half-hour meeting with Clinton in New York last Friday and announced that Clinton would be making a third visit to Ireland at the beginning of that month.

And a formal invitation for the president to step north of the border once again is expected today when Clinton meets in Washington, D.C., with the North’s first minister, David Trimble, and deputy first minister, Seamus Mallon.

The confirmation that Clinton will be visiting Ireland for one last time during his administration came after months of speculation that Clinton would seek to set a final seal on his interventionist Irish policy by setting foot on Irish soil for one last time as president.

One Irish government official reported Clinton as saying during the meeting with Ahern that he would be there – in Ireland – "with bells on."

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At the same time, U.S. officials warned that the visit was not yet set in stone, an indication that the White House believes there are still crucial issues in the peace process to be finally ironed out.

The meeting between Ahern and Clinton, in Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, came during the United Nations Millennium Summit.

The two leaders spent most of their 30 minutes together discussing the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ahern said afterward that the two men had focused particularly on the proposed policing changes in the North as outlined in the Patten Commission report.

"Patten was in itself a compromise, so what we’re now trying to do is trying to get everybody to live by the compromise," Ahern told reporters.

The taoiseach stressed that progress on RUC reform would be the strongest catalyst for full implementation of the Good Friday agreement and a stable peace for the North.

"If we don’t succeed in getting young nationalist – young republicans – into the [police] force what a mistake that would be," he said.

White House officials said privately that Clinton had conveyed to the taoiseach that he believed the eventual success of the peace process was linked to how the policing recommendations are presented.

Clinton had indicated that the U.S. would watch carefully and offer assistance in the coming weeks on finding a recipe that will be appealing to all sides.

The issue of police reform is also likely to dominate discussions involving Clinton, Trimble and Mallon, in Washington today.

The visit will constitute the first official joint appearance by the Northern Assembly leaders in Washington.

Meanwhile, Ahern’s visit to the UN last week also focused attention on Ireland’s bid to secure a rotating seat at the UN Security Council.

"For only the third time ever and for the first time in 20 years, we are seeking a seat on the Security Council," he said during his five-minute address Wednesday to the assembly of world leaders. Ahern later made a similar pitch for membership of the council during a speech to the New York-based Foreign Policy Association.

Ireland’s Security Council bid will be augmented this week by Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Brian Cowen, who is in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly.

Ahern, meanwhile, was not the only prominent Irish figure in the city for the UN gathering.

On Thursday, the taoiseach stood alongside former Irish President, and now U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, as he signed a UN declaration on ending racism. Robinson sponsored the initiative.

"We hope this initiative will help stem the rising tide of racism and xenophobia around the world, and that sadly includes Ireland," Robinson said.

Against this backdrop, Irish rock singer Bono presented the UN with a petition urging third world debt relief.

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