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14 December 2000 Edition

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Praise for Clinton but Blair must deliver

The visit of US President Bill Clinton to Ireland bestrode the news agenda this week like a Colossus. His public engagements were positive and upbeat, a perfect showcase for his strong charisma and his undoubted commitment to securing progress in the Irish peace process.

With dignity, Clinton took his well-deserved bows at the end of a Presidency that has seen a sea change in the US attitude towards the political situation in Ireland. Without his personal attention and interventions, it is highly unlikely the process would have travelled as far as it has.

There have been a series of political engagements over the past couple of days to discuss the crisis in the peace process. At Stormont on Wednesday, a Sinn Féin dellegation consisting of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún, Gerry Kelly, Joe Cahill and Martin Ferris met with Bill Clinton and other US government representatives and with Tony Blair and his people. Gerry Adams also had a private meeting with the US President.

But the point to be borne in mind as Bill Clinton departs for home is this. His contribution has been important, but responsibility for moving the process forward now rests squarely with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Clinton may have influence, but Blair has the power to move the situation forward.

Blair is the one who can deliver a full and fair implementation of the Patten report.

Blair is the one who can deliver on demilitarisation.

Blair is the one who can use his influence to force David Trimble's hand on the exclusion of Sinn Féin ministers from North/South Ministerial Council meetings.

Bill Clinton's commitment to the Irish peace process is not in doubt. The same cannot be said for Tony Blair and the British government, who have acted dishonourably and have reneged on commitments made.

The ball still rests squarely with Tony Blair.

Gardaí act with malice

Sinn Féin has accused the Garda Representative Association (GRA) of fabrication following comments by that body on Wednesday in connection with the release on compassionate parole of two republican prisoners over the last month.

``This has been done as part of a campaign by the GRA to try and prevent the release of the Castlerea Five,'' said Gerry Kelly, rejecting the GRA's claim that two of the prisoners had abused compassionate parole.

``The commotion caused by the GRA has little to do with how compassionate parole is exercised but about who receives it as both Jeremiah Sheehy and Pearse McAuley honoured the terms of their compassionate parole.

``The GRA is misrepresenting the facts in an attempt to attack Sinn Féin's irrefutable case that the republican prisoners held in Castlerea are entitled to release under the terms of the Goood Friday Agreement. Any attmept to check out this story quickly shows how much of it is factually incorrect.

``These prisoners should have been released by now and Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for their immediate release.''



So long Bill


``We must be mad,'' said my companion as we left a wet and cold Dublin on Tuesday evening, our car buffeted by storm-force winds and rain. Yes, we were mad, but with an official invite from William Jefferson Clinton to Dundalk and the sound of many people chiming `it will never happen again' or `never again in your lifetime', or the simple `I would go if I had an invite', we made our way slowly to Dundalk.

On the issue of Ireland, Clinton has done the right thing. For this he deserves our unequivocal thanks
When you think about it, the not in my life time argument doesn't hold water. Kennedy came to Ireland in 1963, I distinctly remember Nixon at the Aras and marched with the protestors and flag burners for Reagan in 1984. So why was I having a sausage roll and coffee in a Statoil café in Lusk? It must have been something else driving us on to stand for four hours on a cold December night waiting for Bill.

``We must be mad'', I said, as we reached a desolate rain swept Dundalk with the light fading, and the only hint of a crowd the 50 plus young girls in blue uniforms pondering their bedraggled stars and stripes flags. Then it seemed that we would just be making up the numbers.

However, when we reached Market Square, we realised that the slow trickle of people we had seen skulking round the town an hour earlier had swelled to a modest crowd. In fact, the crowd was now so big there was a half hour wait to pass through the airport security-style gates erected for the evening.

As we shuffled from foot to foot in the cold waiting to pass speculation was rife. Do you think the Corrs will be here? No, it's only Brian Kennedy singing Danny Boy, was the general belief. Will Bill play the Sax? Will he fly or drive? How long will he stay?

The Danny Boy scenario seemed all the more plausible as eager young Civil Defence members pounced on the waiting crowd and pressed small A5 leaflets with a welcome from Dundalk UDC on one side and the words of Danny Boy on the other.

This, I was reliably informed, was the President's favourite song. Funny though, I seemed to remember that in 1996 it was Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow that was Clinton's favourite song. But Clinton is well known for his forgetfulness. Still I asked myself, what was I doing here?

At least it wasn't raining, and Gerry Ryan's jibes about the VIPs having to sit on wet seats made for an interesting debate. Though the USA is a republic with all created equal, when it comes to seating they have a hierarchy with seemingly endless levels.

First off were those with invites. They got to the first corral, which as it turned out with a crowd of 60,000 people, was a lot further away than those without official invites. Then there were those with orange cards, a further lucky 600 people who got centre stage but slightly behind the people with the

green cards, who got seats. There were a further select group who got to go backstage to the hospitality and press areas, including President Adams and

ministers McGuinness and de Brún. Councillors Ferris and Reilly seemed content to have seats.

The crowd continued to grow and wait, grow and wait. A local céilí band with a good spirit of wit between reels kept us all that little bit warmer as did local boy Liam Reilly and then Altan with Donal Lunny. Then on came Brian Kennedy and it seemed that Clinton had to be coming soon. At least Reagan had come on a beautiful hot summer's day when we sat chanting and booing.

Here we were with no sun, but an impressive full moon and suddenly, there he was, the President of the United States. Sure there was some small talk from three other speakers, including Bertie Ahern, but there were calls throughout for ``We want Bill'' and ``Bill we love you''.

Clinton didn't speak long and it wasn't really what he said that mattered, though his speech covered all the bases, local and national. He talked about the 45 million US citizens of Irish extraction, the Corrs, the software island, the boom town that Dundalk was, facing into our destiny and laying our history to rest and finally the assertion that it was ``a new day in Ireland''.

As Brian Kennedy struck up Danny Boy with an accompanying violinist and a children's choir, it became clear to us why we were there. Yes there was a curiosity value in seeing and if you were lucky meeting Clinton. But the possible reason why we, all 60,000 of us, were standing out in the cold evening air was that this was an affirmation of where have come to during the past eight years of Clinton's presidency. We had come into the light and there should be no going back.

Indeed, it was clear too as we cheered and applauded that Clinton had done his part, unlike any previous US president. As he basked in the moonlight, the unacceptable aspects of the modern USA, including the boycott of Cuba, the bombing of Iraq and Kosovo and the undermining of the UN didn't really go away. It was more a case of accepting the reality that on the issue of Ireland, Clinton had done the right thing. For this he deserves our unequivocal thanks. So long Bill, it was a truly excellent adventure. 



Clinton visit sharpens focus on peace process


Despite the hyperbole of media attention monitoring President Clinton's every move this week, his visit has undoubtedly brought renewed attention to the current state of the peace process.

``Redouble your efforts for peace,'' he told the crowd of over 60,000 people that assembled at Market Square in Dundalk on Tuesday night.

``If you make peace here permanent, you can give people all over the world desperately needed hope and proof that peace can prevail.

``The past is history, not destiny. That is what I came here to ask you, to redouble your efforts.''

While the US President acknowledged that the peace process is now facing some serious difficulties, he said that the benefits of that process so far have been enormous.

``There are still a few hills to climb on the road ahead,'' he said, ``but the people of Ireland now know the advantages of peace.''

Speaking before Bill Clinton's arrival, Gerry Adams said that whilst the visit has created a much needed focus on the need for political progress, the British Government have been far more concerned with spin than substance.

``There is a perception, created by the British Government itself, that it is working behind the scenes to achieve movement before President Clinton's visit. Is the British Government really burning the midnight oil to get movement? Are they making the effort? What is happening? Nothing.

``Well, that is not quite true. There is a big effort being made to get Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Irish Catholic Bishops and the Irish Government to acquiese to Peter Mandelson's Police Act. All the effort is about getting us to accept that the changes that were recommended by Patten and rejected by the British Government and not included in the Police Act, are now going to be put in an implementation plan.''

British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson conveyed his government's desire to downplay the potential for a political breakthrough in his comments to the press on Wednesday.

``I'm not looking for a breakthrough or some great new peace deal. That's really not what we need,'' he said. ``What we need is gentle bits of movement on a number of key issues, a number of people's concerns addressed, so that we can overcome the problems we have at the moment.''

From his subsequent attacks on the IRA, it seems that the `number of people' whose concerns need to be addressed are all members of the Ulster Unionist Council.

As Clinton travelled through what Sky News disparagingly termed ``one of the world's smallest and most troublesome nations'', his message was more upbeat than Peter Mandelson's. ``In the end you cannot win by making your neighbour lose,'' he said.

``We've got to keep going. Reversal is not an option. The people want this to go on and I think the leaders have to find a way through the last three or four difficult issues and I think it can be done.''

On Wednesday evening, in Belfast, there were many platitudes and a great deal of general rhetoric from Tony Blair and David Trimble, but it was Clinton who injected some sense of realism before a massive crowd in the Odyssey Centre.

``Giving practical effect on the ground to the rhetorical promise of peace,'' he said, is a necessity if we are to forward the commitments and aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement. ``Peace is not a spectator sport, no one can afford to sit on the sidelines.''

As David Trimble, with typical lack of courtesy, walked out to catch a flight, Clinton called for the full implementation of the Patten Report, for all arms to be put beyond use and for a process of demiloitarisation to be oput in place, specifically referring to the forts and spyposts of the border region.

As he leaves Ireland for the last time as US President, Bill Clinton knows that he, more than any of his predecessors, has taken a positive and active interest in Ireland. He has been dynamic, interested and involved whenever his and America's influence was needed, up to and including his present trip.

However, the feel-good factor generated by his visit will seem very hollow indeed if it is not matched by substantive and sustained moves from the British Government on all the initiatives they have been promised to the people of Ireland. Tony Blair must live up to his responsibilities. 


An Phoblacht
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