Far less clear to decide, however, is what — if any — influence the Clintons can now bring to bear on the continually troubled peace process.
During a hectic tour of Dublin, Belfast, Derry and Enniskillen last week, their constant theme was the importance of building peace. Both were resolutely upbeat about the future of the Irish peace process.
During his visit to Belfast, President Clinton emphasized that responsibility now lies with local politicians to make political progress this month. He added, however, that there were clearly huge difficulties to overcome.
He said he was encouraged by some of the recent statements by key players in the peace process and that a U.S. administration led by Sen. John Kerry would greatly assist the peace process if needed.
In Belfast, the former president said Kerry was ready to adopt a more active role than President Bush.
“He would far more likely be heavily involved and supportive of the process”, Clinton said of Kerry. “It is generally true that if he were president he would be more active across a whole range of areas which would build America’s positive relationships.”
The Clintons held a series of meetings with political leaders in Belfast, including Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Paul Murphy, the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, a delegation from the Rev. Ian Paisley’s DUP, as well as the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble.
“I know that people want to go forward,” Clinton said. “I also think that they are serious political parties, so they want to exercise authority. You can’t exercise authority if you don’t have a government to exercise it within.”
But his message was not universally welcomed. Ian Paisley Jr. mocked Clinton’s assertion that the Good Friday agreement was not dead.
“This is a man who is clearly out of touch with political reality,” Paisley said.
The DUP MP for East Derry, Gregory Campbell, met Sen. Clinton during her visit to Derry and said she had been given the DUP message. He said those who believed the Good Friday agreement would prevail were “fooling themselves.”
Sinn Fein’s Adams, meanwhile, paid tribute to the roles the Clintons played in assisting the peace process. “I think they represent the best of U.S. opinion on these matters,” he said.
After meeting the Clintons in Belfast, the deputy leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, said they had told the couple the DUP were up for trying to secure a deal to bring back devolved government.
But the East Belfast MP also expressed concern at statements made by John Kerry, who criticized some Orange Order marches in a letter to Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus. Kerry also angered DUP leaders by urging them to share power with Sinn Fein.
“As you are probably aware, the Kerry campaign has been making some remarks about the Northern Ireland situation,” Robinson said. “It is important that any Democratic candidate, never mind a Democratic president, has a balanced view.”
The former U.S. president was cheered by thousands when he turned up for a book signing on Thursday afternoon in Belfast city center, where traffic came to a standstill. People had queued since the early hours to meet him.
Earlier, in Dublin, on Wednesday, it had been the same story, with thousands queuing round the block to get a signed copy of his autobiography, “My Life.” The manager of Eason’s bookstore, Martin Black, said it had surpassed previous records set by footballers Roy Keane and David Beckham.
There was an unfortunate sting in the tail to the otherwise successful visit, however, when the former president and Senator Clinton were booed as they left Enniskillen after leaving without shaking hands with the crowd.
About 130 people had waited for around two hours outside the Clinton Center for International Peace on the site of the IRA’s Remembrance Day bomb blast in 1987 that killed 11 people.