By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Planners for President Clinton’s Irish visit next week are hoping the Irish people will come out in force to "show him personally how much they appreciate what he did for Ireland," one Irish government official said this week.
Clinton will start his three-day sojourn with two public events in Dublin on Tuesday, Dec. 12. There is speculation that Clinton might also visit the border town Dundalk in County Louth, a town that has been seen for years as an IRA stronghold.
There is further speculation that both the IRA and British government might use the visit as an opportunity to advance the demilitarization and arms decommissioning processes.
The Clinton visit will be a full family affair. In addition to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the president will bring his mother-in-law and daughter Chelsea along for one of the last foreign visits of his eight-year presidency.
It will be the first presidential visit to Ireland for daughter Chelsea and Mrs. Dorothy Rodham.
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In deference to Mrs. Clinton’s new status as a senator, planners have looked to "deepen" the events to which she will be invited.
The first lady has been to Ireland more often than her husband and has formed strong connections with Irish women’s groups.
With her seat in the Senate, Mrs. Clinton is now expected to carry on the Clinton family’s interest in Irish issues. The Irish visit will be a new beginning in that regard.
The last time the president and first lady visited Northern Ireland together, they traveled to Omagh to comfort the families of the 29 people killed in the August 1998 Real IRA bombing. The Clintons are expected to again pay tribute to those who lost their lives or were injured in that bombing.
Although not scheduled to address the Dáil or the North’s Assembly, the president will meet with numerous government officials during the visit.
While in Dublin, he will meet with President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. After Dublin, the party will go to Belfast, where Mr. Clinton is scheduled to speak with First Minister David Trimble, Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon and representatives of Sinn Féin and other parties.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will join Clinton for talks in Belfast.
The president’s meetings with Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness will come just days before a scheduled judicial challenge to Trimble’s move preventing McGuinness and fellow party minister Bairbre de Brun from attending North-South body meetings with Irish government officials.
After leaving Northern Ireland, the Clintons will visit the Blairs for some "down time" at the British prime minister’s country house, Chequers.
White House officials are struggling to finalize the details for the trip but have been hampered by the continuing saga of the U.S. presidential election. A decision over whether to take a congressional delegation to Ireland has thus been delayed.
American lawmakers hoping to make the trip include Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Congressmen Peter King and Joe Crowley, both from New York, and Richard Neal of Massachusetts.
President Clinton, shown here with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, is due to arrive in Ireland on Tuesday. There is speculation that the IRA and British government may use the visit as an opportunity to advance the decommissioning and demilitarization processes.