Obama 'to resume' Clinton's NI legacy

Obama 'to resume' Clinton's NI legacy

President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Belfast next Monday, 18 years after Bill Clinton brought a message of peace to Northern Ireland ahead of the Good Friday agreement.

Clinton touched down in November 1995, during a time of ongoing talks in the region and a fragile IRA ceasefire that was shattered just months later.

Seamus Mallon, who went on to become deputy First Minister three years following the visit, recalled the impact that President Clinton made on Northern Ireland.

Mr Mallon said: "He was a man who was fairly well liked by Irish people and he had done quite a lot of quiet work in terms of trying to get peace in Ireland.

"When he arrived here the real Bill Clinton was evident. He was a tremendous speaker. He was tremendous with people. He knew how to work a room and a camera. He knew how to work a political process.

He was there giving a message, and that message was peace at any cost, almost in relation to Northern Ireland.

Seamus Mallon

Deric Henderson, Ireland editor of the Press Association, described the public interest in Clinton's visit as at "fever pitch".

"We are in the middle of major discussions in the peace process. Washington was centrally involved in that. That meant Clinton had his ear to the ground. He knew exactly what was going on," he explained.

However, he believes the change in circumstances in NI will have an impact on how locals view the appearance next week of President Obama ahead of the G8 summit.

"I think this is more of a courtesy visit. He will deliver a key note address in the city. He will encourage the first and deputy First Ministers to keep their eye on the ball. He will ask for public support."

During his time in Belfast, President Clinton visited both the Shankill and Falls Roads areas of the city, which continue to be overshadowed by peace walls.

Former loyalist and republican prisoners Sean Murray and William Smith work for a project called Beyond the Walls, which calls for investment in areas divided by the structures.

Obama's interest in Ireland is fairly limited. It's not part of the White House agenda.

Deric Henderson

William Smith hopes President Obama's visit will bring the Good Friday Agreement back to the centre of American administration.

He said: "When Bill Clinton was president, he gave us a lot of hope. He came across here regularly and put a lot of effort into Northern Ireland. Just after Bill Clinton left office the American administration seemed to turn way and left a job unfinished.

"I think it's up to Obama to refocus his administration and finish that job."

Sean Murray is hoping for further investment to areas such as the Shankill and the Falls, which have high levels of social deprivation.

"They feel left behind in the current peace process," he explained.

"If something tangible can be put in place by way of investment then I think that would be a positive contribution.

"At a political level there's an attempt now at Executive level to bring all party talks together on issues which weren't dealt with at Good Friday Agreement, like the past, parades, flags etc and obviously a bill of rights.

He added: "If he can get positive dialogue going I think that could be a contribution."


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