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Unionists reject Bill Clinton's offer of help to break the deadlock at talks

By Rebecca Black

Published 28/09/2015

Bill Clinton during his visit to Belfast in 2004
Bill Clinton during his visit to Belfast in 2004
Lord Trimble who says the former President should stay at home to help his wife
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Thanks for the offer - but we need to sort this problem out ourselves, unionist politicians have told Bill Clinton.

They were speaking after the former US President had offered to help try and resolve the latest crisis at Stormont.

Round-table talks today will focus on paramilitary activity as parties bid to get the Assembly back on track.

As news of the impasse spread around the world, Mr Clinton is said to have become concerned.

As US president, Mr Clinton made history in the 1990s when his administration became deeply involved in the peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

He and wife Hillary also made a historic 'feelgood' Christmas visit to Belfast in 1995.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed Mr Clinton's offer to help at the weekend.

Mr Kenny said Mr Clinton "expressed his continued interest in wanting to assist the process in Northern Ireland."

This was backed up yesterday by one of Mr Clinton's former senior aides.

Nancy Soderberg said Northern Ireland's peace process was a large part of Mr Clinton's legacy as US president.

"This is something he cares very deeply about, and if there's a way he can help, of course he would be willing to," she told the BBC's Sunday News.

Ms Soderberg said the ultimate responsibility for achieving progress lay with the Northern Ireland parties.

However, the reception to his offer, while respectful, has been cool.

Former First Minister Lord Trimble said Mr Clinton should stay at home to support his wife as she attempts to be the first woman in the White House.

"With all due respect to the former President, his time would probably be spent better supporting his wife's campaign," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Meanwhile one of the DUP's resigned ministers Simon Hamilton said the two outstanding issues - continued paramilitary activity and need to implement the Stormont House Agreement - needed to be resolved locally.

However, he encouraged Mr Clinton to "persuade parties to fulfil their responsibilities".

"Whilst we appreciate the goodwill and support that exists for Northern Ireland in places such as the United States, ultimately the issues at stake in the current talks must be resolved by the parties locally," he said.

"The two outstanding issues that must be dealt with are continued paramilitary activity and the need to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

"If Mr Clinton is able to persuade parties to fulfil their responsibilities in these areas then people would obviously welcome that."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers said she expected a difficult week at the talks.

"Finding a way to resolve the two issues on the talks agenda will be very difficult. But I believe the parties have established a sound basis on which to take forward discussions with greater intensity," she said.

Stormont spiralled into crisis after PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton confirmed suspicions that IRA members had been involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan last month.

The PSNI chief said the IRA still existed, but said that it was not engaged in terrorism.

The Ulster Unionist Party responded by withdrawing from the Executive. Then First Minister Peter Robinson, along with three of his party's ministers, also resigned their posts.

Belfast Telegraph

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