By Ray O’Hanlon
Bill Clinton’s third visit to Ireland as president of the United States last week was an emotional occasion as well as an important mission to shore up the troubled peace process. It was, for Clinton, the final public act in a more than eightyear effort to rewrite the story of the U.S. presidency and Ireland. Here are some of the highlights of the Clinton years.
Gov. Clinton of Arkansas attends the Irish American Presidential Forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. Candidate Clinton promises a U.S. peace envoy for Northern Ireland, a visa for Gerry Adams because he is an elected MP, and pledges support for the MacBride Principles on fair employment. Days later he won the New York primary.
Just before the presidential election, Clinton renews the peace envoy promise and other pledges in a statement delivered to former Rep. Bruce Morrison. However, Clinton does not mention Adams, who had lost his Westminster seat shortly after the Sheraton forum.
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Irish America wakes up to the election of a new president who has promised to turn aside years of U.S. reluctance to get deeply involved in the divided politics of Northern Ireland.
Members of the Irish Americans for Clinton-Gore lobby group meet with officials of the incoming administration in Little Rock. Clinton is sworn is an 42nd president.
Clinton meets British Prime Minister John Major. The new president sounds a cautious note on a possible U.S. role in the North but Irish American expectations continue to rise.
Clinton appears to step back from envoy pledge during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington, but also states that the option is still open.
Gerry Adams attempts to secure a U.S. visa but is denied by U.S. authorities. It is reported that the decision to deny was taken by Attorney General Janet Reno. Clinton later explains that he was advised against granting Adams a visa because of his connections to terrorism and the fact that he was no longer an elected MP.
Speculation about a possible envoy continues to mount. Former president Jimmy Carter is one name linked to the job.
In a major shift, and against the backdrop of the Downing Street Declaration, the U.S. allows Gerry Adams enter the country for a 48-hour period to attend a conference in New York. Clinton’s hand is seen as being behind the move. However, Clinton also pours cold water on envoy plan saying the idea had been "overtaken by events."
Adams visits Washington on a post-IRA cease-fire return visit to U.S. He does not meet Clinton but gets a phone call from Vice President Al Gore.
Clinton appoints outgoing Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as his special adviser on economic initiatives for Ireland. Clinton hints that Mitchell’s role might be more than just economic. Gerry Adams, meanwhile, returns to D.C. This time he enters the White House for a meeting with Clinton administration officials, including National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.
Clinton shakes hands with Adams at a St. Patrick’s Day event hosted by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Later, Adams is seated close to Clinton at the annual White House reception but the two do not meet for a second time. There is no photo of their first handshake.
Clinton presides over three-day Washington trade conference on Ireland. Promises to visit Ireland in the fall.
In what many see as a replay of President Kennedy’s visit in 1963, Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visit Ireland, North and South. Kennedy did not visit North.
Clinton backs arms decommissioning report by George Mitchell, now head of international decommissioning body and effectively the president’s peace envoy. But British government has doubts.
IRA bomb in London ends IRA cease-fire but Clinton signals that he is not about to abandon support for Gerry Adams. Adams gets limited U.S. entry visa in March.
Clinton elected to second term. Says he wants to see a "genuine" cessation of violence in the North.
In the aftermath of both the Good Friday Agreement and Omagh bombing, the Clintons make their second visit to Ireland. Upon returning to Washington, the president is presented with the Paul O’Dwyer peace award on the same day as the Starr Report is made public.
As a political power-sharing executive looks possible in the North, Clinton ponders a third visit to Ireland.
Political problems stall the planned visit throughout the year, but, finally, Clinton makes an unprecedented third and final presidential visit to Ireland in an effort to shore up the still troubled peace process.