British Prime Minister John Major was beside himself with rage and snubbed Bill Clinton for weeks after the US President granted Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams an American visa in 1994.
President Clinton allowed Adams into the US to further the peace talks that led to the Good Friday agreement. Soon after the IRA declared their ceasefire.
Major and initially Senator Ted Kennedy were against the move to allow Adams into the United States and weren’t shy about telling President Clinton.
The Conservative Party leader even refused to speak to Clinton for weeks afterwards according to former Irish diplomat Sean Donlon.
He told the Parnell Summer School in Wicklow that the visa granted to Adams led to major tensions at the highest levels.
Donlon served in a range of posts including Irish ambassador to the US and secretary general of the Department of Foreign affairs.
He revealed: “When President Clinton decided to issue the visa to Adams in 1994, the British were incandescent with rage.
“John Major refused to take phone calls from President Clinton for a number of weeks – he just wouldn’t take the call.”
The Irish Times reports that Donlon told the summer school that the issuing of a visa to Adams was a very close call and even Ted Kennedy had initially opposed it.
He said Kennedy abhorred the military activity associated with Sinn Féin and never lost an opportunity to tell people that he himself had lost two brothers to violence.
Donlon added: “John Hume persuaded then US ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith that granting a visa to Adams to further peace talks was the correct thing to do.
“Hume had persuaded Albert Reynolds, and Kennedy Smith persuaded her brother Ted. They then all persuaded President Clinton to grant the visa, which became a watershed moment in the peace process.”
The decision initially upset British diplomats who were highly influential with the US State department.
According to Donlon, Irish diplomats had realised as far back as the Carter presidency that the US state department would generally by influenced by what the British thought and Irish lobbying was switched to Washington.
Donlon also praised the efforts of George Mitchell in the lead up to the Good Friday agreement.
He said: “The process paid off over the following three years through the patient and skilful work of George Mitchell, the US special envoy on Northern Ireland.”
Mitchell chaired the all-party peace negotiations, which led to the Belfast Agreement signed on Good Friday in 1998.