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Former President William J. Clinton

Irish America Hall of Fame: President William Clinton

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Former President William J. Clinton

But they, like everyone else, just needed the acknowledgement that they are no better or worse than citizens in New York, Washington or London.

Everywhere President Clinton went in Ireland was a triumphal progress. From the huge crowds in Belfast, Derry and Dublin to the intimate moments such as those with Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, the President had the perfect pitch, understanding just where the line between American interference and positive involvement lay.

Upon assuming power in January 1993, President Clinton had set about building a new “special relationship” with Ireland, which in several important instances had eclipsed the historical tie with Britain when the two have come into conflict.

“No president has ever invested his prestige and his concern for the people of Ireland and for the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the way Bill Clinton has,” Bruce Morrison, the former Connecticut congressman, a key player in the peace process, said.

The New York Times called the Clinton visit “the best two days of his presidency.” The President himself was clearly ecstatic that he had struck such a chord with a country weary of war and desperate for peace. Clinton had made the Irish peace process his own. Indeed, without him it is unlikely it would have happened at all.

We can take no less an authority than the IRA for that. In a secret IRA memo revealed in the Sunday Tribune newspaper in Ireland on April 23, 1995 the reasons for the IRA ceasefire of August 31, 1994 were detailed. Among the three key reasons given was the support of President Clinton for the new peace process.

Once the peace process began, Clinton threw the full weight of the White House behind it. When the process was lagging, his White House Economic Conference on Ireland in May of 1995 provided an important boost. Clinton became the first ever U.S. president to deliver a major speech on Irish issues when he addressed over 1,500 delegates.

Held at the Sheraton Hotel in Washington over a three-day period, the conference was the first time that any American President has committed his administration to that kind of direct economic and political involvement in the affairs of Ireland since the dawn of the American republic. The future was there in that conference. A future for Northern Ireland that promised peace instead of bloodshed. “The good that he has done here will last long after him in Ireland,” Donald Keough, president emeritus of Coca-Cola, predicted.

In March, 1996, President Clinton, whose ancestors the Cassidys are believed to have emigrated from Ballycassidy, County Fermanagh, was Irish America’s  Irish-American of the Year. We are delighted to induct him into our 2011 Irish America Hall of Fame.

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