Northern Ireland needs to stay unified in face of Brexit, says Hillary Clinton
US politician urges interim government to be formed
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton last night urged Northern Ireland's leaders to create an interim unity government in order to navigate through Brexit and to strive for "peace not paralysis".
Mrs Clinton gave an address at Queen's University, Belfast's Whitla Hall as she received an honorary degree and welcomed a new scholarship in her name.
The former US presidential candidate began by saying that Belfast was a "very special place" for her and her family. Turning to the political climate both here and around the world, Mrs Clinton said there are "clear differences" over plans for the future.
She warned that Northern Ireland's leaders and its people face "consequential decisions".
She said: "How do you make sure your achievements over these past 20 years are solidified and extended at this moment of challenge and uncertainty? And that they continue to provide for peace, prosperity and progress?"
Mrs Clinton said she believed that an interim government would provide a "unified voice" which could be "valuable in the difficult days ahead".
"The policy disagreements dividing your political parties are deeply felt but the stakes of the Brexit process go way beyond politics as usual.
"I wonder would it be possible for the people of Northern Ireland, and those who represent them both in Westminster and here, to figure out a way to form an interim community government for the purposes of securing the best possible Brexit outcome for Northern Ireland?
"Back in 2016, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister May about their Brexit priorities and concerns; that's a long time ago in political years but a similarly unified voice could be valuable in the difficult days ahead."
She added: "Putting aside the quarrels of the present, even for a time, to work together to preserve the benefits Northern Ireland now enjoys, seems like a good bet."
Mrs Clinton said she made "no excuses" for being against Brexit adding that it "may go down as the worst self-inflicted political wound in history" - but said it "should not be allowed to undermine the peace and prosperity that has been so dearly won here".
Mrs Clinton concluded by saying that the people of Northern Ireland deserve "peace not paralysis" and she will "pray and trust it comes to pass".
There were a small number of protesters who gathered outside the university gates.
Ahead of the ceremony the Workers Party voiced its opposition to Mrs Clinton's presence.
It said: "At a time of great poverty and inequality, Clinton champions market economics and has a long history of support for aggressive interventions across the globe and for the expansion of Nato and its war machine."