Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

We must heed Clinton's message

Former US President Bill Clinton will always have a special place in the history of Northern Ireland. He was a pivotal figure in getting the peace deal signed and he made ending the Troubles a major foreign policy issue during his administration. Given his input he can be regarded as a good friend of the province, and like all good friends, he can speak the truth to us, even when it is not entirely palatable.

His call yesterday for us to finish the job – implement the words and spirit of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement – was not just a nice soundbite, but a clear sign that there is some impatience across the Atlantic at our inability to put the past behind us and work positively towards a genuinely shared future.

It is almost 16 years since the signing of the Agreement, yet relationships between the main parties of Stormont's power-sharing administration seem to be very strained.

The US has kept its side of the deal, encouraging its entrepreneurs to invest here and sending a senior diplomat, Richard Haass, to help negotiate a way through the minefields of flags, marches and the past.

While Mr Clinton praised politicians for the strides they have made, and these should never be forgotten, he stressed more needs to be done to provide a better future for the young people of the province.

The message is clear, the politicians cannot rest on their laurels. Having crossed the Rubicon by agreeing to share power they must now forge on and create a positive legacy.

Mr Clinton's visit to Londonderry was in large part to pay homage to former SDLP leader John Hume who many see as an architect of the peace process.

Later Mr Clinton spoke to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who last week were at loggerheads over on-the-runs letters.

Both will have listened carefully to Mr Clinton's observations ahead of their visit to the US for St Patrick's Day. It is ultimately on these two leaders' shoulders that the responsibility for 'finishing the job' rests.

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