Clinton visit sharpens focus on peace process
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
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.