By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Full details of President Clinton’s return visit to Ireland in early September are expected this week from the White House.
Clinton’s September Irish sojourn, meanwhile, will not be confined to Ireland itself. A White House event is being planned for Friday, Sept. 11, a few days after the Clintons return, during which the president will be presented with the Paul O’Dwyer Peace and Justice Award.
The award, named after the late human rights activist, will be presented to Clinton by the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York and Paul O’Dwyer’s son Brian.
The presentation is expected to be made on the White House South Lawn. Brian O’Dwyer told the Irish Times that the award was in celebration of Irish America’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process and an acknowledgment of President Clinton’s central role in the quest for peace.
Those involved with the planning of the Irish trip anticipate the most important moment will come at the very beginning, when Clinton will address the new assembly in Stormont.
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“His speech will take place just a week before the Assembly starts,” one official said. “To give the parties such a boost by having an American president address it will, hopefully, motivate the politicians to live up to certain expectations.”
The address to the Assembly will take place after Air Force One lands in Belfast on Thursday, Sept. 3. Later that day, Clinton will travel by helicopter to Armagh, where the White House, British and Irish officials are still attempting to organize an interdenominational reconciliation event involving the president.
One of the constraints in planning the presidential visit is the limited number of airports that are big enough to accommodate the president’s plane, a Boeing 747.
In addition, thought has to be given to the possibility of rain limiting the use of helicopters for presidential transportation.
Armagh was chosen, in part, because it will be possible to travel from Belfast to the event by motorcade if the weather does not cooperate.
Clinton will also take the opportunity in Belfast to announce continued U.S. financial backing of the Springvale educational project in the west of the city, possibly at a speech at the Waterfront Hall.
The Clintons will travel to Dublin to spend the night after their day in the North. A reception and meeting with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is likely the following morning.
On Friday evening, there will be a dinner hosted by outgoing U.S. ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith. There has been speculation that her expected replacement, Mike Sullivan, former governor of Wyoming, would be part of the official traveling party.
“No way,” said one White House official. “We like to keep our ambassadorial prospects out of the limelight before they’re confirmed.”
White House officials said the president would focus considerable attention during his visit on technology investment issues.
Clinton will go over ways in which the U.S. and Ireland can strengthen their roles as leaders in production of computer technology.
The president and First Lady Hillary Clinton are now expected to spend Friday night at Adare Manor in County Limerick. A speech in Limerick City the following morning is expected to precede the long-awaited round of golf at Ballybunion in County Kerry.
A small delegation from the U.S. congress will accompany the Clintons on their journey. However, it will not resemble the large retinue the Clintons had in 1995 when they first visited Ireland together.
At this point, the U.S. politicians, accompanying press and security teams are set to depart Ireland Saturday night. But word of an effort to keep the whole lot of them in Ireland for one more day has slipped out.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, is reportedly tempting Clinton into a second golf game on Sunday, near to his family roots in Donegal.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich will also be tapping his Donegal family roots this week as head of a congressional delegation visiting both Northern Ireland and the Republic.