Category: Archive

Dublin Report Without Clinton, there would be no peace process

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Whatever about the American election that is still occupying much of the headlines in this country, the Celtic Tiger, courtesy of the minister for finance, Charles McGreevy, is now about to drop some of its unexpected largesse.

Spend, spend, and spend some more is going to be the main feature of the coming Irish budget.

Clearly, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s coalition government is gearing itself up for a general election. The people will benefit. When they get to the polling booth, they may even remember.

But before going into the main theme, it’s necessary to throw a few reassuring words at the American people.

The European media in general is enjoying one large guffaw at the expense of the American people. Some editors have even gone to the extent of calling the whole election a farce.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter


Because the American system ensures that every vote is counted.

What’s so bad about that?

The American people should be absolutely satisfied their electoral system works so finely. It is not often that a citizen of any democracy can claim their personal vote counts all the way down to the wire. In a huge country like the United States it is even more exceptional.

The fact that it could hardly happen in any European country is not so much a criticism of the American system as it is of the European.

Let the new president get on with the job of running the world’s greatest democracy.

What does all of this have to do with Ahern and his government, a coalition that seems a lot more shaky because of a new, threatening difference between Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats on the proposal to introduce legislation on abortion?

The U.S. presidency has a lot to do with all of the rest of the world, whether Americans like it or not. Neither of the current White House contenders may have a very deep knowledge or even a liking for that ubiquitous thing called foreign policy.

A crash course will be necessary even before the inauguration because the world is a deeply troubled planet.

In the Middle East, a fragile peace is being torn apart. In Africa, brush wars threaten continually to engulf the continent. In Ireland, battered by a conflict that has lasted more than 30 years, Unionists, in general, show little inclination to face modern realities.

First Minister David Trimble mollified his party’s right-wing rump at the last Unionist Council meeting by insisting that until IRA arms are decommissioned, no Sinn Fein ministers can continue to take part in cross-border authorities.

It was a silly decision, not the silliest he has made, but certainly as silly as those he continues to make.

Sinn Fein took the right course when it decided to test it in the courts through the personage of Barber de Bruin, the cross-border minister most immediately affected.

The Unionist senior negotiator, Sir Reg Empey, clearly does not agree. He described Sinn Fein’s court challenge as "self defeating," and claims that if it loses, it will merely have established that his party has a judicial veto on cross-border participation under the Belfast Agreement.

More tellingly, he commented that if Sinn Fein won, his party would have to take "even more serious actions."

Naturally, he was not going to spell out what those actions might be.

He also alleged that the reason the unionists had taken the decision it took at its council meeting was because of the continuing killings, gun running and punishment attacks carried out by the IRA.

He also demanded that it should reengage with the international decommissioning body, choosing to ignore the fact that the IRA had again opened its arms dumps for inspection just before the controversial Ulster Council meeting.

Equally, he conveniently ignored the fact that almost all of the current violence in Northern Ireland originates in the internecine feuds between loyalist paramilitary organizations intent on preserving their lucrative patches of turf.

For his part, Gerry Adams argues that the ban on ministerial attendance in cross-border bodies is a direct breach of the Good Friday agreement. He also claims, with considerable justification, that Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland secretary, is doing nothing to ensure that the agreement is implemented in full.

Obviously, all of this impinges directly on Ahern and the Irish government, which, along with its British counterpart, is a guarantor of the agreement.

Sin Fein’s Martin McGuinness has already held talks with the U.S. administration on the latest Northern problem.

One cannot help wondering what attitude the future U.S. administration will take toward future problems that will inevitably arise in Ireland.

One of the many great things about Bill Clinton is that he dared to be different in his approach toward the British government. He successfully fought to put the Northern Ireland issue on the international agenda.

Almost all previous U.S. administrations slipped it conveniently on the back burner. They adopted the view that it was an internal British problem.

Studiously, the U.S. Embassy in London kept its diplomatic distance while in Dublin the U.S. Embassy confined itself mainly to economic and trading matters with the Republic of Ireland.

All of that was changed with the advent of the Clinton administration and its pro-active policy toward the protracted Irish violence. Briefly, the change even led to a bitter flurry between the British and Irish ambassadors, an indication of just how significant it was.

Without Clinton would have been no Good Friday agreement or no peace process.

Always, in his foreign policies, he attempted to be a healer. While he did not always succeed, certainly not in the Middle East, he initiated processes that will have to succeed ultimately simply because they make sense.

His visit to Vietnam and his quiet renunciation of a war that left the U.S. embittered and divided was a fitting finale to a presidency that helped to change the world so much for the better.

Both Republicans and Democrats have pledged the bipartisan approach to the Irish problem will continue.

The question that bothers quite a lot of Irish people is whether with either George W. Bush or Al Gore at the White House helm, that policy will continue as actively and helpfully as it did with Bill Clinton.

American foreign policy may not seem to be all that important to Americans as a whole. But it is vitally important to all of the rest of the world.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese