Absent from President Clinton’s trip to Ireland last week was the public euphoria that greeted his visit in late 1995. Maybe it was because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Or maybe a second trip simply doesn’t generate the same excitement as a first. Or maybe — and this is more likely — the possibility of a peace still unattained generates more optimism than does the hard work of building upon one that already exists at some level.
The Good Friday Agreement, the product of the Clinton-inspired Mitchell Principles, offers an attainable blueprint for the future of Northern Ireland. Now the tough work of fine tuning and implementing the agreement begins. It can be said that this Clinton visit, however tepid its reception compared with the earlier one, has provided major impetus toward achieving that goal.
Consider some of the events in the days leading up to the visit: Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, though stopping short of declaring the IRA’s war finished, said that violence is "over, done with and gone." The IRA said it would help locate the bodies of the so-called "disappeared," most of whom, if not all, are believed to have been the victims of IRA violence during the last 30 years. It was announced that Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness will work with the decommissioning body set forth in the agreement. UUP leader David Trimble and Adams have agreed to an unprecedented face-to-face meeting this week.
Taken individually, each is a step forward. Together, they represent a leap. Perhaps each of these developments would have occurred in time. But, clearly, the Clinton visit was the spark that set them in motion. If nothing else, they indicate that continued U.S. involvement in the peace process is still the key to its ultimate success.