Category: Archive

Ireland, Here I come

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bill Clinton will visit Ireland for three days in December.

White House officials said on Monday that the president intends to do “some real work” on shoring up the troubled Northern Ireland peace process during the visit, which will take place Dec. 12-14.

The exact itinerary for the trip has yet to be finalized and is still “highly fluid,” according to a source.

A White House advance team has been in Ireland in recent days preparing the ground for what will be Clinton’s third and final visit as president.

Belfast and Dublin are on the schedule. Clinton will likely spend the first night of the visit in Belfast and the second in the Republic’s capital.

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The visit will be a full family affair. It is expected that the president will be accompanied on the visit by First Lady and senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea.

“Building on the progress that’s been achieved in implementing the Good Friday accord, the president hopes that his visit will help to overcome current difficulties on the path to lasting peace in Northern Ireland,” White House press secretary Jake Siewert said Monday.

Clinton’s advisors said privately that the White House has been in contact with all the political leaders in the North and that the president’s visit would focus heavily on securing commitments from republicans for further movement on arms decommissioning while nudging unionists in the direction of policing that is more acceptable to republicans and nationalists.

“He’ll have an opportunity to meet with all the key leaders and actually talk to the people of Ireland directly, both of Northern Ireland and the Republic, to explain the importance of implementing the Good Friday accord and building on the foundation that brings for a lasting peace,” Siewert said.

Clinton’s visit is being designed to give fresh impetus to the faltering peace effort. It is also being seen as an opportunity for Clinton to shore up his political legacy in the foreign policy arena.

At the same time, the December visit is not likely to include the large-scale public events of previous presidential stopovers in Ireland.

“I expect he’ll have meetings both in Belfast and somewhere in Ireland with the leaders,” Siewart said. “He has, from day one of this administration, been deeply engaged in that process. He’s going to go at the final days of his administration staying engaged, trying to do everything he can.”

Officials in Washington are also saying that Clinton is prepared to “roll up his sleeve” to ensure much needed progress in the peace process.

The two previous Clinton visits to Ireland precipitated some of the most significant movements in the Northern Ireland peace process. The Downing Street Declaration corresponded with Clinton’s 1995 visit, while the Good Friday agreement came to fruition after his 1998 visit.

“President Clinton has played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in the Northern Ireland peace process, and it is hoped the visit, his third in five years, can exert some influence on the key players as yet another crisis looms,” Siewert said.

“The president has earned the trust and confidence from both sides,” said one senior administration official, “and he will do all he can to make this work.”

“He will have discussions with all the key leaders. There will be actual work done, but this is a three-day trip and there’s not an awful lot of time to produce solutions to everything,” the official cautioned.

The announcement of the three-day visit has been welcomed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

In a statement, Ahern said that he was “delighted” that the visit would now go ahead. Clinton had indicated his desire for another Irish trip to Ahern when the two met in New York in September.

“The visit,” said Ahern, “will provide an opportunity for the Irish people to celebrate and applaud the Clinton presidency, which has been marked throughout by an unprecedented interest in Irish affairs generally, his active support for the peace process in Northern Ireland in particular, and his encouragement for stronger economic links between the U.S. and the island of Ireland.”

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