Belfast Telegraph

Bill Clinton visit: Former US President urges Northern Ireland to 'finish the job' on dealing with past

Clinton visited Derry and Belfast on Wednesday

Former US President Bill Clinton has called on Northern Ireland to "finish the job" on dealing with the outstanding issues surrounding the past.

Speaking today, the US statesman said great strides had been made in the region in the last two decades but said more work was needed to overcome issues outstanding from the past.

Addressing a crowd in the Guildhall Square in Londonderry, Mr Clinton said it was not for him to propose the way ahead.

He said politicians had "inspired the world" but more progress was needed.

PEACE BRIDGE

Mr Clinton walked across the footbridge linking the nationalist City side of the River Foyle with the unionist Waterside alongside former SDLP leader and Nobel Laureate John Hume and his wife Pat.

During his speech to a crowd in excess of 1,000, the former president paid tribute to Mr Hume's efforts to secure peace.

But he said those still involved in the process needed to press on to overcome difficulties.

His comments come at a time when relations among parties in the region's mandatory power-sharing executive at Stormont are at a low ebb, with a collective failure to resolve long-standing issues regarding parades, flags and, most crucially, the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

"This economy is coming back, we need to get this show on the road," said Mr Clinton.

"So I implore you, for the sake of the young people, and all those who did so much, like John, for so long - finish the job.

"This is Ash Wednesday so permit me just one reference to scripture. Often at the funeral of good people the wonderful verse of scripture is cited from St Paul - 'I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I finished the course'.

"Well, you fought a good fight and I can look in your eyes and see you have kept the faith - you have not finished the course."

Bringing his remarks to a close, Mr Clinton told the people of the city his heart would always be with them

"You have given me one more day in Derry I will never forget," he said.

Last week the Stormont Executive was on the verge of collapse when Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign after details of an agreement the UK Government had struck with Sinn Fein to deal with on-the-run IRA suspects became public.

While Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement of a judge-led inquiry into the controversy staved off Mr Robinson's departure, the episode was indicative of the capacity of Northern Ireland's past to de-stabilise the present and prevent progress in the future.

A talks process aimed at addressing the outstanding problems facing the region chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass ended on New Year's Eve without a breakthrough.

A blueprint proposed by Dr Haass remains on the table but the leaders of the five main parties are no closer to reaching consensus on the proposals - and arguably further away after last week's crisis.

On his fifth visit to Derry, Mr Clinton also helped launch a book on peace-making produced by the University of Ulster.

BELFAST

Tonight in Belfast he will officially open a leadership institute named after him at Queen's University.

Before delivering the inaugural William J Clinton leadership lecture at Queen's, he will meet Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont to discuss the current challenges facing the power-sharing institutions.

The 67-year-old was heavily involved in the peace process when he was president, especially in the run-up to the signing of the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He first visited Belfast in 1995.

Mr Hume said the visit of the former president was an "incredible honour" for his city.

"I have known Bill Clinton for 22 years and I have met him every time I travelled to Washington, and I have always had the greatest admiration for him," he said.

"I am deeply appreciative for all the work he has done to help Northern Ireland, in spite of all the difficulties during his time in the Oval Office.

"Bill Clinton had economic difficulties and international difficulties to deal with during his administration, yet he gave so much time to Northern Ireland and the peace process.

"Pat and I are delighted that Bill Clinton is here in Derry, a town and its people transformed by peace and which we are all so proud of."

Mr Clinton was afforded an overwhelmingly positive response by the cheering crowds.

The only negative incident came when a lone dissenter briefly shouted out comments about the Iraq conflict.

Derry native Mr McGuinness was one of a number of politicians who attended the event in the Guildhall Square.

The Sinn Fein Assembly member said the visit of Mr Clinton was "hugely symbolic" and thanked the former president for engaging "emotionally and intellectually" in the peace process.

He also rejected any notion things had gone backwards politically since Mr Clinton's last visit in 2010.

"I think President Clinton understands how this place has changed," he said.

"If you cast your mind back to before he was President of the United States when there was conflict on our streets, when there were all sorts of incidents occurring, and (compare it to) what is happening now - we are an island of peace."

He said the onus was on local politicians to conclude the work on the Haass process.

"We need to get back to the Haass template and we need to conclude the negotiations around that," said the Deputy First Minister.

"Is there a prospect we can do that? I think there is every prospect if there is a will for us to do that."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph