10 September 1998 Edition
Clinton takes time-out in Ireland
Sean Brady witnessed the Irish reception for a US President in trouble
It has been said that US President Bill Clinton has a remarkable ability to compartmentalise his life. Apparently he can switch off from one pressing issue and deal with another without the crushing stress of having them all on his mind at the same time. It is a valuable skill for a man in his position.
Of course it is a myth to portray the world and its politics as being made up of so many separate compartments. The inter-connections are everywhere, as they must be in Bill Clinton's mind.
It was in this context that many republicans and others in Ireland observed Bill Clinton's most recent visit to our shores. The transformation engendered by his personal and political intervention in the Irish Peace Process has been invaluable. Clinton's contribution was the critical factor for the process at an interational level. No American President has devoted as much time and energy to Ireland as Clinton, and it is clear that the Irish at home and abroad are grateful and acutely aware of the importance of his commitment to the issue.
There was a genuine warmth towards the US President in Ireland last week. But unlike his last visit two other issues loomed large in many minds as he travelled from one rapturous reception to the other - the President's domestic political problems, in particular the pressure being applied by Kenneth Starr over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and the US bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan.
The Lewinsky issue has dogged the President for a protracted period now and has been irksome to many who fail to see the logic in the Amreicans crucifying their President over something which has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to manage the affairs of the nation or to work positively with others on the world political stage. It had reached the stage where, by the time of the Irish visit, the manner in which the media was dealing with the issue was puerile and barely above the level of tabloid titilation.
The dust had barely settled on the bombed sites in Sudan and Afghanisatn as Clinton touched down on Irish soil. These attacks caused outrage among many Irish people already reeling from the effects of the Omagh bombing. Perhaps it was the proximity in time of the two events that for one rare moment cut through the blatant contradictions which normally pervade media and political attitudes towards violence carried out by Western governments as opposed to political violence carried out by anyone else.
Numerous parallels were drawn between Omagh and Afghanistan and Sudan- the large number of civilian casualties and the recklessness of the bombers being two of the most obvious. These points were made and made well by a small number of journalists and politicians but it was clear that many from all sides of the political spectrum were restrained to a large degree by a desire not to detract from the issue of the Peace Process and the importance of a continued US focus on it.
As a country to which Bill Clinton has made a poistive contribution, one which may very well be the outstanding success story of his Presidency, and the warmth which Clinton obviously felt on his visit here, the Irish are possibly in a unique way well placed to point out what is unacceptable and negative and arrogant about aspects of US foreign policy.
A President flies in
Michael Pierse joined the media circus following Clinton in Dublin
One noticeable inclusion in the list of complementary gifts given to the madding crowd of journalists was a myriad of propaganda documents regarding the ``Northern Ireland peace process'' amongst other related issues, with pictures and profiles of Liz O'Donnell, Bertie Ahern and Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews. To those of us more inclined to conspiracy theories, it seemed an obvious effort to ensure that foreign journalists, not having done their homework on the Peace Process, would be cleverly bombarded with the propaganda of the Dublin Government.
Clinton arrived in a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. Several Chinook and Sikorski helicopters bombarded the ears of those assembled near the Pope's Cross in the Phoenix Park, as the US President and First Lady Hillary landed to the greetings of Bertie Ahern, his partner Celia Larkin and US Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. The Presidential party then travelled the short distance to the Ambassador's residence, where Clinton spent the night.
Bill's first appointment the next morning was a meeting with Bertie Ahern for about an hour at Government Buildings in Merrion Street, in which he was informed of what Ahern himself has termed as ``draconian'' new laws rushed through the Dáil.
Bill then attended a reception for the social partners at the Royal College of Surgeons..
That afternoon he travelled to the Gateway 2000 computer plant in Clonshaugh at which Clinton and Ahern made an historic signing of an accord confirming their dual commitment to promoting the electronic industry links between the US and the 26 counties. The historic significance of this ceremony was the novel method of signing. Instead of the traditional pen and ink the pair used smart cards to sign up digitally.
In an eloquent oration Clinton quoted Yeats in saying ``In dreams begin responsibilities''. He said Ireland has ``assumed great responsibility. As a result, you are moving toward permanent peace, remarkable prosperity, unparalleled influence and a brighter tomorrow for your children. May the nightmares stay gone, the dreams stay bright and the responsibility bear easily on your shoulders, because the future is yours''.
He's an impressive performer but it was impossible not to notice that there was no reference to the nightmare suffered by the people of Sudan, in particular, where two million are on the brink of starvation, while the US launched a series of $1m bombs at them three weeks ago.
State victims appeal to Clinton
By Sean O'Tuama
During his visit to Belfast, Bill Clinton met representatives of a number of human rights groups campaigning on behalf of victims of British state violence.
Eilish McCabe, a spokesperson for the Relatives For Justice (RFJ) group, presented Clinton with a letter outlining the need for US intervention on the issue of the `forgotten' victims of British violence.
Over four hundred people have been murdered in the Six Counties over the last thirty years by the RUC and British Army directly with many more killed as a result of collusion between the crown forces and loyalist death squads.
Ms McCabe, following her meeting with Clinton in the Waterfront Hall on Thursday 3 September said, ``the President spoke about equality of treatment and justice''. She then called on the British government and Unionist politicians ``to match these words by deeds.'' And she confirmed that Clinton said he would give the issue of ``victims of state and state sponsored violence'' his ``full attention.''
Monsignor Raymond Murray of RFJ also gave the US President a letter calling on him to intervene on behalf of victims of the British state. The Monsignor said that despite the signing of the Good Friday document four months ago, which specifically refers to victims, victims of the state ``continue to be marginalised and excluded even further from the process.''
Jean McBride, whose son Peter was murdered by the British army six years ago, did not gain a meeting with Clinton, but did manage to present him with a letter.
Peter's killers, Scots Guards Fisher and Wright, were released from jail last week just two days before the 6th anniversary of his slaying.
In her letter, Mrs McBride pointed out that the releases did not take place under the terms of the Good Friday document and that ``The British government has treated us shamefully in this affair and has shown total insensitivity towards our hurt and grieving.''
She said, ``there is a hierarchy of victims in this conflict'' and appealed to the President ``to use your influence to ensure that the British government treats all victims and all perpetrators equally.''