By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Clinton administration is proposing an increase of more than $5 million to the annual U.S. contribution to the International Fund for Ireland.
The proposed increase to the current annual allocation of $19.6 million was announced last week by Jim Lyons, President Clinton’s adviser on economic initiatives for Ireland.
Meanwhile, with the referendums in Ireland less than two weeks away, Clinton plans to be personally kept up to date on developments in the coming days by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G-8 economic summit meetings in Birmingham and London.
White House, Irish and British officials had attempted to get the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to meet Clinton in London next Monday. However, Ahern’s commitment to address the graduating seniors at Boston College precluded the meeting.
“We were looking forward to both congratulating Blair and Ahern and being brought up to speed in person by the taoiseach, but the timing wasn’t there,” a White House official said.
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Clinton will, however, have short meetings with several groups from Northern Ireland when he gets to England. He will explain some of the economic incentives designed to bolster the peace process.
U.S. intentions in this regard were outlined by Jim Lyons and Clinton himself last week. The president wet with WAVE, a victims of violence support group in Northern Ireland.
“I intend to work with Congress to make available up to $5 million,” Clinton said in a statement after the meeting.
The money would be used to complete the Springvale Campus project in West Belfast. The Clinton statement also indicated that the administration would offer up to $500,000 to fund programs to support the proposed new Assembly in the North.
Lyons, speaking to reporters in the briefing room at the White House, said he envisioned an exchange program for new members of the Assembly to come to Washington to observe and receive assistance in launching the new governmental body.
Lyons, who is also the U.S. observer for the International Fund for Ireland, said he expects the fund to continue to receive the same level of support it has received in years past, in addition to the newly proposed round of financial aid.
It was also announced that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would return to Belfast for the third time since her husband became president. She will attend a “Vital Voices” conference in Belfast in early fall to discuss the women’s role in the economic and political turnaround toward reconciliation.
Lyons met with President Clinton in the Oval Office prior to the various announcements. “He was optimistic, as we all are, that we will get to the next step,” Lyons said afterward.