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Clinton will work for NI's future if she beats Trump, says advisor at Belfast dinner in her honour

By Margaret Canning

Published 21/10/2016

Caroline McNeill, organiser of last night’s event at the Europa Hotel
Caroline McNeill, organiser of last night’s event at the Europa Hotel
Fearghal McKinney with Lord and Lady Trimble
The audience watch a video of Mrs Clinton
Alban Maginness with San and Linda Wong
Marcia Lyons and guest speaker Jim Lyons

A close advisor to US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said Northern Ireland will be a key concern for her if she defeats Donald Trump.

Jim Lyons, a Denver lawyer and former economic envoy to Northern Ireland, admitted Clinton had made no mention of Northern Ireland in her campaign. But he said: "That's because campaigns centre on certain policy areas, but be assured that she will still wish to devote time to Northern Ireland."

Mr Lyons, who took over from Senator George Mitchell as economic envoy in 1997, spoke at a dinner in honour of Mrs Clinton at the Europa Hotel last night.

The Democrat, who is descended from Irish parents, said he was fully confident she would win and that "her interest, energy and heart will be here for she knows that much work remains to be done and new challenges like Brexit must now be addressed". "She will be here, working with you for Northern Ireland's future," he added.

Ahead of last night's dinner, Mr Lyons spoke about his work as President Bill Clinton's advisor to the International Fund for Ireland from 1993 to 1997. He said he had worked on setting up the Spectrum Centre on Shankill Road and Culturlann in west Belfast - and visited both yesterday.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he first met Mrs Clinton 47 years ago when they were both "courtroom lawyers" - and he paid tribute to her skills. "We worked together then - I certainly wouldn't want to be on her opposite side," he said.

He discussed Mrs Clinton's opponent in the election, and described Donald Trump's attempt to use former President Bill Clinton's marital indiscretions against his wife as "a distraction". "The fact of the matter is that President Bill Clinton paid a price for that," he said. " It happened 20 years ago and he isn't the one who's running for office."

Mr Lyons said Trump was not a fit candidate, but he would not single out any one attribute that made him especially unfit.

"In America, we talk about the whole package, and in Trump's case it's the whole package which is unfit," he added.

He vowed Mrs Clinton would be a "transformative" president and he was certain she would win. "That's because of the reason President Obama said she would win - it's because she is the most highly qualified person to be President of the United States in history," he added.

He said he hoped investment in Northern Ireland by US companies would continue but added: "We have a problem - and that's called Brexit. Capital abhors instability."

He told guests that when arriving in Belfast as an advisor to the fund he was impressed by the city's elegance and sense of normality. "I saw Belfast was not Beirut," he explained. "Its Georgian and Victorian buildings retained their timeless beauty, and despite the Troubles the place was not in flames.

"People went to work, the kids went to school and working men and women persevered, but always under the spectre of unexpected violence."

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