SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton has made it crystal clear in her visit to Ireland that she and the Obama administration are giving the Irish peace process a very high priority indeed.

It is also very welcome that she dropped the ludicrous “no special deal” nonsense when she talked about the undocumented Irish and the need to address that issue.

She stated she had been impressed with the efforts of the Irish lobby to win immigration reform, and that it can happen in the context of overall comprehensive legislation. That is welcome news for the undocumented Irish community.

The very fact of her visit to Ireland, at a time of much international tumult, is a clear indication of how important the issue is to the secretary of state.

It certainly belies the criticism by some badly uninformed media commentators and “leaders” in Ireland and the U.S. that Clinton would show little interest in Irish issues during her time in office.

Yet she managed almost two days in Ireland in the midst of shepherding a major agreement between Turkey and Armenia, taking Iran to task over their nuclear weapons program, warning North Korea over their latest efforts to carry out missile tests, and an all-day conference with President Obama on the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan to spend very significant time in Ireland.

As always with Clinton, her message was concise and to the point. She told the Northern Ireland Assembly that everyone needed to get on board the new policing and justice bill, which will result in such powers being devolved to the Assembly in Northern Ireland from the control of the British government.

The Democratic Unionist Party have dragged their feet on this issue, leading to a dangerous vacuum at an unstable time in Northern Ireland.

The combined efforts of the Irish and British governments and now the U.S. government appears to be bearing fruit. The sides are said to be close to a breakthrough in the most vital matter still impacting the success of the peace process.

Clinton also had harsh words for the dissident IRA groups that are still trying to scuttle the peace process, scorning their efforts as vicious attempts to drive Ireland back into the past.

The good news during her visit was that the INLA, a splinter IRA group, announced it is handing over its arms to the decommissioning body in favor of pursuing a peaceful path. The timing was no coincidence, it seems.

Clinton also told a British news conference that she was absolutely certain that there was no support for such organizations in the U.S., a welcome statement, as the British press would like nothing better than to demonize Irish Americans one more time.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Clinton’s visit was the quick start by her economic envoy to the North, Declan Kelly, who has already created several key support groups involving major Irish American business figures who are tasked with job creation.

There is no more critical task than trying to underpin the fragile process with the kind of economic investment that can make a profound difference in ordinary lives in Northern Ireland.

The future of the North, so gloomy prior to the Clinton visit, is suddenly far brighter after her intervention and the work of the two governments. Hopefully there will be more days like these, as Van Morrison once remarked.