Hillary Clinton will face a full blown crisis in the peace process when she visits Northern Ireland this weekend. Sinn Fein and the DUP
are at loggerheads over when policing and justice powers will be devolved to the Northern Irish government from the British parliament.
Clinton, who is making an historic first trip ever for a U.S. Secretary of State to Dublin and Belfast, will need all her negotiating skills to try and bridge the gap between the two sides who are deeply divided. Indeed, there are now increasing signs that Sinn Fein might walk away from the assembly if a solution cannot be found and the DUP foot dragging doe not end .
In the "Irish News" Denis Bradley,a former mediator between Sinn Fein and the British government, wrote that Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness has become increasingly concerned that the DUP are merely seeking to bring down the power sharing government.
"Up to recently the deputy first minister (McGuinness) would have worked as hard as any man could to keep it all up and running," writes Bradley
"He would have traveled through the night and the next night and the next to make sure it all held steady. He would have turned on the republican dissidents and spoken words so sharp that they would resonate in history.
"But his mood has changed. He has sensed the mood of his own people and the unchanged mood of many in the DUP and he is now as willing to walk as he is to stay."
Bradley also warns that if there is an election that Sinn Fein may well end up as largest party in Northern Ireland with McGuinness as First Minister because of deep divisions on the unionist side. He says unionism may not be able to live with that.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been trying to resolve the logjam and has the two leaders, McGuinness and Peter Robinson of the DUP to Downing Street today to try to resolve the crisis.After yesterday's meeting in Belfast, McGuinness said he had received assurances that the financial cost of devolving the powers would be met. Robinson however, denied that was so. But former special envoys are divided over whether Hillary's visit will help the process.
Paula Dobriansky, George W. Bush’s last special envoy to Northern Ireland, told the Belfast Telegraph that "Her trip is very timely.”
Dobriansky went on to say that “it will also be very important in terms of the traditional exchange and discourse that takes place with Irish officials and also British officials about how we can all assist in the movement forward of issues in Northern Ireland.”
However, Mitchell Reiss, Dobriansky’s predecessor as special envoy, and widely viewed as the least effective envoy since the position was created was more critical.
“It is actually detrimental to the political maturity of Northern Ireland to continue to look for outsiders to solve the problems,” said Mr Reiss.
“The people of Northern Ireland are perfectly capable of solving these issues themselves.That’s what a lot of the conflict was over.
“So, to expect that the United States is going to descend ‘deus ex machina’ from the skies and make everything nice, is misleading, and I
think it undermines the political process in the North."
Jim Lyons, a Colorado lawyer who was President Clinton's envoy, thinks the Hillary visit will be a good development. “I think that she’ll
probably lift people’s spirits by her visit,” said Lyons who was envoy to Northern Ireland from 1997 until 200.
He also stated that the U.S. government’s peace process role has always been “to provide a mediator’s role, if you will, a safe space within which otherwise difficult conversations could take place.
“And, as a 40-year trial lawyer and as someone who has done my own share of mediations, I think that role can often be critical toward
finding common ground,” said Mr Lyons during an interview from his Denver, Colorado, office.
He said the fact Hillary Clinton is making the visit at all is extraordinary.
“With all that the United States is facing at the moment — two wars, an economy in great difficulty, healthcare reform, Iran, new relations with China and India — with all that this woman has on her plate, I think it’s an absolute clear indication of her interest in Northern
Ireland that she’d be making time to go there herself,” he said.