When Northern Ireland marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of violence at events next week, it will
When Northern Ireland marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of violence at events next week, it will be Bill and Hillary Clinton taking a bow – with President Biden Joe back at home after making only a brief stopover in Belfast.
As officials consider the sacrifices and good fortune that have allowed the achievement to hold, some are pointing to the pivotal role of U.S. diplomacy and to interventions by President Clinton during his tenure. As the agreement came together, Clinton brought the skills he honed in U.S. politics – from glad-handing to cajoling and late night gamesmanship – to the task.
Clinton, who has been sitting for TV interviews on the anniversary, will headline a panel under the heading of ‘the guarantors’ next week, with his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton serving as chair. That comes just two days after Biden wraps up his own swing through Northern Ireland and a visit to his ancestral homeland in Ireland.
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern inked the deal on April 10, 1998, after negotiations that ran on for two years but ultimately helped end one of the globe’s most implacable armed conflicts. Voters approved the agreement weeks after it was signed, helping turn the page on a violent period known as ‘The Troubles.’
Guarantor: Former President Bill Clinton has been recalling the makings of the Good Friday Agreement in documentaries pegged to the 25th anniversary, which came Monday. He was interviewed by RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan for one project
‘This would not have happened without Bill Clinton [and] the United States,’ said former New York Republican Rep. Peter King. ‘Clinton was a driving force. He was the first president really ever to get involved. He took on his own State Department and the British government when he gave the visa to Gerry Adams,’ King said of the Sinn Fein leader who was allowed to come to the U.S. for a two-day visit.
‘Nobody understood all of the bizarre, unusual characteristics of these different Irish leaders. To Bill Clinton, to him, rather than being a mess, it all fit it into a mosaic.’
It is Clinton, 76, whose contributions are set to be lionized during a major conference at Queen’s University in Belfast, which come after the completion of Biden’s week-long rip to Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Clinton identified the issue as one he wanted to focus on before he took office, and when the time was right, he tapped former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to help oversee negotiations.
‘He was a great diplomat, but he also would have been a great therapist, incredibly patient – listening to the same stories time after time after time’ said Gary Mason, a methodist minister who was involved in the Northern Irish Peace Process.
President Joe Biden flies to Belfast on Tuesday. He departs for the Republican of Ireland Wednesday afternoon
In this April 10, 1998, file photo, from right, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, pose together after they signed the Good Friday Agreement for peace in Northern Ireland. Clinton called Mitchell’s role ”the most onerous part-time job in history’
‘And really, I think that was of immense benefit to move people in the right direction,’ he said.
Clinton in a new interview pegged to the anniversary called it ‘the most onerous part-time job in history.’
On his trip this week, President Biden, 80, will address the breakthrough during remarks Wednesday at Ulster University, which is opening a new campus in Belfast.
‘And he’ll underscore the readiness of the United States to preserve those gains and support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities,’ said White House national security spokesman John Kirby. ‘President Biden cares deeply about Northern Ireland and has a long history of supporting peace and prosperity there,’ he added.
But while the White House says the trip is timed to be close to the actual anniversary, which has come and gone, Biden will be back in Washington by the time major events marking the agreement take place.
Christopher Heaton-Harris, the UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said this week Biden’s short visit to Northern Ireland wasn’t a snub and that people should ‘make the most’ of it so it is a positive event. (It didn’t help that the assembly in Stormont isn’t currently functioning due to a Brexit-related impasse).
Biden’s own trip will include tracking down distant family connections in County Louth and County Mayo in the Republican of Ireland – after spending two years in office regularly invoking his Finnegan ancestors in speeches.
Biden tweeted about the anniversary Monday, saying it ‘ended decades of violence and brought stability’ and saying he looked forward ‘to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the U.S. commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.’
One source never recalled Biden not being highly involved in the peace process despite his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the 90s, crediting Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts with helping provide ‘cover’ for key steps in the process.
‘I never remember him being involved at all,’ said the source.
The multi-party agreement brought together the British government, the Irish government, and most parties in Northern Ireland. In addition to requiring armed factions on both sides to lay down their weapons, it set up political structures and guaranteed representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.
While taking a personal interest in the issue, Clinton used the power of the White House to try to generate movement, even inviting Adams to the White House in 1995 for a reception around St. Patrick’s Day.
Critical to the foundation of success for the agreement is that people who had been living through neighborhood violence wanted to bring an end to the terror and were willing to make sacrifices through negotiations.
‘People eventually have to sit around the table. There’s no question about that,’ said Mason.
‘I remind people in a little boy in 1972, we had a terrorist every 40 minutes. My life as a child was going to bed listening to the sound of guns, bombs in the distance and sometimes reasonably close. That world has completely gone.’
Clinton himself pointed out in an op-ed timed to the anniversary that the process was ‘driven by the people,’ and aided by political leaders willing to show ‘real courage.’
Former Irish Toiseach Bertie Ahern in a recent interview called the necessary ingredient ‘cross community consent.’
If Biden is temped to use his office and platform to try to score a win on getting a power sharing arrangement back on track in Northern Ireland, he should tread lightly, according to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
‘Americans can play a real role but it’s something that you need to do carefully because there is a difference between influencing and pressurising,’ he said.