Many of the encounters between Loyalist and Republicans first occurred in the U.S. Relationships were struck up that proved highly important in the years that followed.
During the Clinton administration heyday David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson, of the UVF political group and Gary McMichael and David Adams of the UDA political group became well known in America Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and others would often appear at Clinton events at the White House they were also at.
Theirs was always a delicate dance that followed. Sinn Fein were only too happy to meet, but the Loyalist understood that any public truck with Sinn Fein at that point could lead to major problems back home.
The economic conference on Northern Ireland hosted by President Clinton at a Washington hotel in 1995 was a case in point with funny moments all over the place as one side tried to ensure they were not caught within camera shot of the other. Entire corners of bars were evacuated at a moment’s notice. Your columnist wanted to shake the hand of now Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson but he took off like a startled goat.
If it wasn’t so stupid it would have been funny. These years later it is easy to look back and laugh at the antics but back then it was deadly serious.