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Bill and Hillary do genuinely care about this place

By Henry McDonald

Published 28/09/2015

Timing is everything in politics and the timing of the latest Stormont crisis could coincidentally boost Project Clinton 2016.

One half of the Clinton team - Bill - has offered to help out in the current discussions at Stormont House aimed at preventing the power-sharing government from collapse.

Speaking via Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Bill Clinton wants to revisit the glory years of the late 1990s when he used his considerable influence to persuade local politicians to support the Good Friday Agreement.

Even before Easter week 1998, Bill and Hillary played their part in keeping the peace process on track. Their historic visit and that memorable night outside City Hall in 1995 was designed to put the seal on peace, to provide international backing for the IRA and loyalist ceasefires, to transmit a message that (in Bill Clinton's words regarding another peace process in the Middle East) America would "walk with you" on the path away from armed conflict.

It would be the height of cynicism to believe that Bill Clinton's desire to help Ulster politicians resolve the current problems such as the continued existence of the Provisional IRA and the disagreement over welfare reform is motivated by US electoral politics. To argue that the sight of one Clinton back on the 'oul sod' aiding the Irish peace process will help the other in her bid to win Irish-American Democratic support for her presidential bid would be churlish.

Hillary and her husband do genuinely care about this place as Bill made clear during a memorable interview he did a few years ago with UTV Live. UTV Political Editor Ken Reid noted that the former US President has a personal interest in the survival of peace and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Why wouldn't he? It is one of the areas of his foreign policy during his presidency that was a relative success, say compared to the Israel-Palestine conflict which began so hopefully on the White House Lawn with the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, and that ended in bloodied deadlock to this day.

It could be argued, with some justification, that the George W Bush administration played a more useful, practical role in securing the later St Andrews Agreement and the power-sharing government that emerged from it which is currently under threat. Bush's Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss will go down in history as the man whose steely insistence that republicans sign up to support the police and the judicial system proved absolutely pivotal in persuading Ian Paisley to share power in a government alongside his future 'Chuckle Brother' Martin McGuinness.

If Reiss and the Bush presidency injected some much-needed realism into the process leading to stable (until now!) power-sharing government in Belfast, at the very least the Clintons together set the tone for the post-Troubles world; they provided the music and the feelgood factor for post-ceasefire Northern Ireland.

The sight of Bill Clinton making one final journey back to Belfast in order to help out some of his old contacts around the negotiating table will also remind American Democrats of the Clintonian magic of old.

By sheer accident our local squabbling politicians have created the opportunity for Hillary to garner more support among the Irish American Democratic coalition, especially on the east coast of the USA.

Belfast Telegraph

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