Category: Archive

Dublin Report Grateful Ireland ignores Clinton sex scandal

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Did he, or didn’t he? And if he did, does it really matter? If he did and he’d testified that he didn’t, all that can be said for sure is that he is no George Washington. That is, if George Washington was not telling lies when he swore that he never did. Otherwise, even if it emerges that he did, the only thing that can be said for sure about Bill Clinton is that he was not the first in a long list of U.S. presidents who most certainly did.

All that really matters so far as the majority here are concerned is that Clinton has turned out to be the greatest friend the Irish people have had in the White House. That friendship has been applied to the area where it is most necessary, Northern Ireland.

For too long, the dreary steeples of the severed six counties, the marching Orangemen, and the sectarian bully-boys have dominated events on all of the island despite any aspirations that the real majority may have harbored. British governments, for all sorts of reasons, usually electoral in nature, have allowed them to get away with it.

That doesn’t mean the majority of people living in the North have no rights. Indeed, the imposition of partition as a short-term answer to a British problem was wrong according to all of the modern norms of democracy and simple justice, but it is, nevertheless, a reality.

What has happened has happened. The people of any era can only try to cope with situations as they find them. This does not mean that they are frozen in aspic, never to be capable of change. Some leading members of the Orange Order and the Democratic Unionist Party may fondly imagine that what is, should always be allowed to remain so. The history of humanity does not remain frozen in time. It is always amenable to change.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

The great virtue of President Clinton and the strength underlying his successful administration is that this reality is appreciated fully. Former British Premier John Major may have shared similar aspirations. Many top Irish civil servants are sure that he did. But he was the prisoner of a fossilized, power-conscious Tory party that did not wish for change. He paid the price personally: the party paid the piper politically.

The Orange Order, revealed as it has been through the incredible scenes at Drumcree, will suffer a similar fate. Never in its history has it been so divided. Rarely had it had to contemplate its future.

That is, until Bill Clinton took office. In accounts of his presentation to his special envoy, George Mitchell, he was quoted as having said that he considered U.S. policy in Northern Ireland to be “in paralysis,” due in part to “our friends across the sea,” as he described the British administration.

It was a gentle way to describe what a British Northern Ireland Secretary once categorized as “an acceptable level of violence.” You can include among that the killings on “Bloody Sunday” in Derry.

For too many years, successive U.S. governments, understandably enough, put the “special relationship” with the UK before any considerations that may have related to Ireland. The practice extended back all the way to Woodrow Wilson and the Great War. It was cemented in the bloody carnage of World War II.

Clinton changed all that. And he managed to achieve it because he recognized that the whole of Europe was changing and will continue to change. The old alliances were no longer as important as they once were to the conduct of American foreign policy. Certainly, a continuing close alliance with the government of a United Kingdom, intent on obdurately objecting to a closer European alliance, was not to be contemplated if it stood in the way of a closer relationship between the U.S. and the newly emerging Europe.

His administration was also aware of the fact that the British, for their part, did not wish to witness the continuance of the Northern Ireland violence. It was not only expensive, it was becoming increasingly unpopular with the British public. The Europeans, for their part, simply did not understand why there should be such carnage in a tiny territory, especially since most member nations had outgrown the 17th century sectarianism that seemed to lie at the root of the entire conflict. They regarded the situation with distaste. It was, so far as they were concerned, just another example of the same obduracy that underpinned British objections to closer European unity.

Increasingly, Britain came to be regarded as being something of a historical curiosity, a perception heightened to some extent by the peculiar difficulties endured by the Royal family.

Naturally, Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to change all that. As it turned out, he was to find the perfect instrument in his bustling Northern secretary, Mo Mowlam. While her initial appointment was regarded with some suspicion in Dublin, especially since it was first thought that Kevin McNamara, the former Labor spokesman on Northern Ireland, would get the post, it soon emerged that she was just as dogged in her determination to fight sectarianism and to seek fair play for all.

The foundation for greater cooperation between the Irish and British administration had already been laid, even as far back as the Hillsborough Agreement, signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald.

All that was necessary was the key to turn the combination locks in the political machinery. Clinton provided that key. The U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, possessed the hand that often turned it. .

Thus, the island of Ireland has the opportunity to cement peace and to get political matters back where they belong, in political chambers, minus the armalite or thundering sectarian denunciations. It is, by any standard, quite an achievement. And Clinton must be given full credit for much of it.

Did he or didn’t he?

The Irish people don’t really care whether he did or did not. Now it’s a case of “Roll on Ballybunion,” and the great showdown with Dick Spring.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese