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In North, most people say Clinton has a point

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — President Clinton was "ruder about drunks than he was about Northern Ireland’s political leaders" was the consensus among callers to one radio show last week in the wake of his remarks in Ottawa.

Clinton had said his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland had faltered because the two sides are "like a couple of drunks" who can’t leave the bar. Later, a White House spokesman said Clinton meant no offense.

"I spent an enormous amount of time trying to help the people in the land of my forebears in Northern Ireland get over 600 years of religious fights," Clinton said. "Every time [Northern politicians] make an agreement to do it, they’re like a couple of drunks walking out of the bar for the last time — when they get to the swinging door they turn around and go back in and say, ‘I just can’t quite get there.’ "

The DUP leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, a lifelong abstainer from alcohol, described the remarks as offensive. He said Clinton was in no position to lecture anyone else on morality.

"The people President Clinton speaks to may drink too much, but he will find the ordinary people of Northern Ireland find his comments patronizing. He never truly cared about them," Paisley said.

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However, other politicians in the North were less critical of the president. David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party said that, while he would not have used an analogy with drinking, President Clinton had a point.

"I think it is not about the drink, it was the identification of being wedded, addicted to something."

Joe Hendron of the SDLP said Clinton had nothing to prove to the people of Northern Ireland. An SDLP spokesman said they were "off the cuff" comments and he was entitled to feel some frustration.

A Sinn Fein spokesman declined to comment.

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