Clinton lauds political process
Clinton lauds political process

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the North’s political leaders to “complete” the process of devolution during a one-day visit to Belfast on Monday.

Mrs Clinton, who met with assembly members, business and civic leaders, emphasized the US administration’s commitment to the peace process.

However, she avoided talks with the Protestant marching orders and political hardliners and focussed on boosting the North’s stalled power-sharing institutions.

She said that the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast was an issue for the Six-County Assembly and urged the parties to work together to overcome the obstacles.

“I encourage you to move forward now with that same unstoppable spirit of grit and resolve. And I pledge that the United States will be behind you all the way, as you work towards peace and stability that will last.”

At the end of her speech to the Belfast Assembly, hardline DUP members Gregory Campbell and Willie McCrea left the chamber as she was being accorded a standing ovation.

Earlier, Mrs Clinton praised the peace progress, saying it should be held up as a global template for peace: “Today Northern Ireland stands as an example to the world of how even the staunchest adversaries can overcome differences to work together for the common and greater good.”

“There have been moments in Northern Ireland’s peace journey when progress seemed difficult, when every route forward was blocked and there seemed to be no way to go. But you have always found a way,” Mrs Clinton said.

The First Minister, Peter Robinson of the DUP, welcomed Mrs Clinton’s visit and also pointed to the progress made here: “Of course there are difficulties, but I believe we are committed to making it work, committed to the long haul, to overcoming the problems we face.”

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who also addressed the gathered media, said this was not a time for complacency: “This is a time for recognising the great achievements, but facing into the challenges that clearly face us.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been involved in recent negotiations to resolve the policing and justice issue and on Monday he handed the DUP and Sinn Fein a document detailing his financial blueprint for the process.

However, the main objections to the move by the DUP are understood to include the list of demands detailed by the party in a ten-page dossier revealed during the talks last week.

The DUP demands have effectively stalled the process, and come in the face of hard-line unionist opposition both inside and outside the party.

Martin McGuinness has already said he will ask Sinn Fein to endorse the financial aspects of the deal, a move which could place further pressure on the DUP.

Mrs Clinton also travelled Dublin to meet political leaders from the 26 Counties.

“The step of devolution for policing and justice is an absolutely essential milestone,” she said there.

“Clearly there are questions and some apprehensions but I believe that due to the concerted effort of the British government, Irish government and support of friends like us in the US, that the parties understand this is a step they must take together.

“It will take the leaders of both communities working together to continue not only the devolution but then to make day-to-day governing a reality, and I’m confident that that is within reach.”

“We are going to continue to work with the parties, with the Irish and the British Governments, and the appointment of a special economic envoy is a very tangible signal that we want to invest in the peace dividends that will come with the final devolution of power and authority and the full acceptance of responsibility with the people of Northern Ireland themselves.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News