Bill Clinton has spoken about The Troubles and Brexit in a speech at Dublin City University where he was awarded an honorary degree.
As President, Clinton took an active role in engaging both sides in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement and was fulsome in his praise for the accord.
“The Good Friday Accord basically recognised that, in an interdependent world, the great trick is to own your own identity, embrace your own tribe, but form a community in which what you have in common with those you can’t get away from is more important than your differences. That is all it was,” he said. “There had never been a peace agreement like it in the world. I used you [as an example] shamelessly everywhere I could.”
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But he was less happy with the decision of British voters last year to leave the European Union.
Although busy with his wife’s rollercoaster Presidential campaign, Clinton followed the referendum closely and he blamed the pro-EU side’s defeat on ignorance and global inequality.
"Now given the economic inequalities and the rapid pace of social change and all the upheaval that's going on... people are reassessing whether what we have in common is more important than our differences.
"A lot of people begged to differ.
"That's really what the Brexit vote is all about," he insisted to his audience at DCU.
Paraphrasing what he thought a British leave voter would say he continued, "I'm sorry we can't stay together, we had a disagreement. Oh my God, I didn't know I was going to lose that customs thing and all these econ benefits. Why didn't anyone tell me that?
"All partnerships,” he added, “that are community-based are held together not because everybody agrees with everybody else, not because we don't still have our particular identities, but because cooperation is better than conflict or isolation in any environment in which you must be in touch with others.
"It's a simple proposition. But we are re-litigating it now."
The ex-President then headed to Belfast where he met with both the Democratic Unionist Party’s Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin.
Northern Ireland’s Assembly remains suspended so Foster is no longer the province’s First Minister but Clinton told her he didn’t like to call her the “former” First Minister because he so hoped that power sharing would soon return soon.
"We are going to get this going again I think," he confidently predicted.
For good measure there was also an announcement that the Clinton Center in Foster’s home town of Enniskillen would be remodelled and expanded. The building is dedicated to the promotion of peace between the north’s two communities and also function as a conference center.
For her part, Foster seemed delighted to see the President.
“I am delighted to welcome President Bill Clinton to Northern Ireland,” she told journalists.
“He is no stranger to us and we deeply appreciate the part he has played over many years in helping to ensure Northern Ireland has a peaceful and prosperous future.”
Former President @BillClinton and DUP leader Arlene Foster announce an initiative to remodel the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen. pic.twitter.com/rHVZUol7ex— Press Eye Ltd (@presseyephoto) October 17, 2017
It’s unlikely the two found much to agree on if they discussed Brexit; Foster strongly backed the leave side in the 2016 referendum and wants out of the Customs Union to boot too, “so we can [agree] trade deal[s] effectively”.
But his views on Europe were likely to strike a chord with Sinn Féin leaders, Gerry Adams and Michelle O’Neill.
Michelle O Neill & I Had A Good Meeting With President Clinton. pic.twitter.com/MNjozlfL7n— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) October 17, 2017
He met the pair afterwards for a chat and O’Neill said afterwards, “We had a wide ranging discussion on a number of issues including the current difficulties facing the political process, efforts to restore the political institutions on the basis of rights and equality and the implications of Brexit."
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