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Editorial Bill flies in

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The announcement that President Clinton is going to Ireland for a three-day visit was widely expected. It has been known that the president was eager to get back to Ireland one more time before the curtain falls on his administration. Given the present situation in the North, his visit could not come a day too soon.

The political process is once more struggling through a difficult period. In fact, it has ended up in the courts. Sinn Fein’s two ministers in the devolved government, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre De Brun, are suing to have First Minister David Trimble’s ban on them attending cross-border meetings removed. Deep doubts persist in the nationalist community about the British government’s new police service, about to be brought into being to replace the old RUC. Rancorous accusations fly from all sides, each alleging that the other has failed to meet its pledges under the Good Friday agreement.

It was not supposed to be like this when the president drops in for his farewell visit. The scenario should have been very different: power-sharing government running smoothly, an agreed and acceptable police force ready to take up the challenge of policing the new dispensation, the two communities learning to work together and thus building the trust necessary after decades of suspicion, violence and hatred.

However, it is unlikely that President Clinton will be greatly surprised at the fact that things rarely turn out as planned in the politics of the real world. Look at the incredible and bloody mess that has been made of the Middle East peace process.

Fortunately, Northern Ireland is not so intractable. Yes, it is every bit as complex, but the dynamics are different at this stage in its long and tortured history. Some of those dynamics were put in place by Clinton himself, without whom the peace process would never have gotten as far as it has. No one who knows anything about the history of the peace process can deny that.

Ever since his involvement, Clinton has not only provided practical help — almost as important, he has contributed enthusiasm. Throughout 1994 and ’95, when the Tory government was seemingly doing nothing but putting obstacles in the way, Clinton’s enthusiasm and optimism came as a welcome relief to the people of the North. He actually believed in the peace process.

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The value of such enthusiasm cannot be underestimated. It brings a sense of hope that people need if they are to overcome the present obstacles.

The president also brings with him a sense of continuity. He has been involved in the process since 1994. He shared in its early hopes, and he worked through the depressing setbacks it has suffered, helping to forge the Good Friday agreement with his envoy, George Mitchell.

No one is expecting a magic formula from Clinton that will resolve all the disputes. But his presence is capable of giving the process the kind of momentum that can push it forward.

All sides should welcome him with the warmth that he so richly deserves. One thing is certain: the Irish people will. And their leaders could learn a thing or two from them.

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