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Clinton, ‘rejoicing,’ pledges to help build future

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Clinton and Irish America’s leading political figures have heaped praise on the decision of Irish voters to back the April 10 Northern Ireland peace accord.

“As of today, peace is no longer a dream, it is a reality. You have indeed joined hope to history. All over America, the eyes of Irish Americans, and indeed all our peace-loving citizens, are smiling. We are very proud of you,” was the hopeful message from President Clinton to the people of Ireland following Friday’s referenda.

“Today we are rejoicing at the news from across the Atlantic. The people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have decisively approved the April 10 peace accord. It is the culmination of a springtime of peace, and it must be the beginning of along season of happiness and prosperity,” Clinton said.

“I salute the leaders who stood for hope against fear, the future against the past, unity against division. We pledge that we will work with you to build a better future for all of your people and ours.”

Clinton was said to be ecstatic with the poll results. He received briefings on the status of the vote while at Camp David on both Friday and Saturday.

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The president called Taoiseach Bertie Ahern Saturday to extend his congratulations.

“The taoiseach again extended an invitation to the president to come back to Ireland, and Mr. Clinton said he looked forward to doing so,” said John Merchanson, a White House spokesman. No dates for such a visit were discussed during the brief call.

The White House also emphasized its commitment to put money into a peaceful Northern Ireland economy.

“Working with the International Fund for Ireland and the private sector, we will help the people seize the opportunities that peace will bring to attract new investment to create new factories, workplaces and jobs, and establish new centers of learning to prepare for the 21st Century,” read a separate White House statement after the vote count confirmed victory for those in favor of the accord.

“He [Clinton] is not going to walk away with just a ‘job well done’ sendoff,” a White House official said. “He is very serious about bolstering the peace with an economic insurance policy.”

Clinton will send his commerce secretary, Richard Daley, to Dublin and Belfast in two weeks for an investment and trade mission. Daley is expected to brief officials on both sides of border about the economic initiatives Clinton will implement to assist Northern Ireland and the border counties.

At a party hosted by the congressional Friends of Ireland Saturday, many listened to briefings from representatives of the Irish and British Embassies as confirmation of Friday’s exit polls showed a clear victory for the “yes” campaigns.

Yet even amid the cheers, there were those who warned of the hard work that lay ahead. Dr. Peter Smith, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau at the British Embassy, said: “Although this is a victory for the future, we should not become too euphoric. We have a long way to go and anyone familiar with Northern Ireland knows that the road can miraculously fill up with rocks.”

Many attending the celebration were Irish nationals who had not had a chance to vote in the referendum with no provision for such a vote available.

“I didn’t really care about not voting because I knew my family back home would do it for me,” said John Connor of County Mayo.

The general air of satisfaction with the vote results was echoed by a number of leading politicians.

Senator Edward Kennedy said, “There will be difficulties ahead. But the Protestant and Catholic leaders who had the courage to break with the violent past and negotiate this historic opportunity now have an emphatic mandate from their long-suffering constituents to make this agreement work and fulfill its promise of peace.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy said that the people of Ireland, in both the North and South, had shown the courage to move beyond the division of the past.

“But the opportunity to achieve a permanent assembly is by no means guaranteed,” he warned. “Suspicion and distrust must be overcome, particularly within the Unionist community.”

Former Rep. Bruce Morrison spoke at a referendum victory celebration in Washington about that task.

“The hope is people like [Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader] Jeffrey Donaldson, who showed his true self with his vote, will have to either put away their dislike for the present and work with his own party or return to the past. And the past means violence,” Morrison said.

Rep. Ben Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, announced he will hold full committee hearings to examine some of the most sensitive issues addressed by the Belfast Agreement.

“It will be my intention early next year to hold full committee hearings on the implementation of the Good Friday Belfast accord, especially on the much needed changes and reform of the RUC,” Gilman said from Jerusalem, where he was visiting with a congressional delegation.

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