Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met with President Clinton last week at the Clinton Global Institute conference in New York and the conversation no doubt soon turned to Northern Ireland.
It is still a shock to see the two together, The Clinton decision to grant him a visa to come to the US in February 1994 was a linchpin of the IRA ceasefire and peace process that followed but there were powerful forces who did their very best to stop it.
Clinton has made clear that he considered the Irish peace one of his most important legacies. Is it time for him to step in and save it all over again?
Yes, that is right. Sixteen years after the Good Friday agreement, the Irish peace process is a vessel utterly becalmed and in danger of capsizing.
It may even take the newly minted grandfather, President Clinton to re-engage and work the same magic he did so many times when he was in the White HouseThe gridlock in Northern Ireland politics is deeply worrying. The vacuum in Northern Ireland is the most dangerous state of all with renewed dissident paramilitary activity being reported including training camps and Loyalist unrest simmering.
At the same time new Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan was in New York receiving the same message that Northern Ireland from the Irish American perspective is seriously slipping back.
Flanagan, former Minister for Children is a thoughtful man and no doubt will understand that while Northern Ireland is seen through the prism of party politics in Ireland, in America the peace process is seen as Ireland’s finest hour and an absolute necessity to maintain. to lose it would be calamitous.
The Fine Gael leadership is alarmed by the rise of Sinn Fein in the south but are they failing to understand that when the issue of Northern Ireland is on the boil they need to act as a government of all the Irish people which has a critical role to play, one that is outside party politics.
A letter is circulating in Irish America on the initiative of both former Congressman Jim Walsh and former Congressman Bruce Morrison who were co-chairs of the Friends of Ireland in Congress calling for a major ramp up on efforts to ensure the process continues. Both men soldiered long and hard to create the American intervention in the peace process which was so successful. There are no greater friends of Ireland. They should be listened to now.
The arrest of Gerry Adams recently has created a new urgency among Irish American leaders, aware at all times that dissident groups still seek to gain a toehold here and they have been redoubling their efforts.
Issues such as the Adams arrest put the future of Northern Ireland not in the hands of the politicians but the shadowy elements in the security forces who still, alas, thrive.
There are deep fears of other such arrests simply because the issue of historical crimes and a truth commission to handle them have not been dealt with.
“Events, dear boy” is what Harold MacMillan said when asked what the most unpredictable issue was that politicians have to deal with.
He is right. The Adams arrest was just one example of how something can quickly spiral out of control.
The way forward seem obvious. The British and Irish and US governments must re-engage. A commission to defuse the historical crimes issue must be appointed. The DUP leader Peter Robinson must do more than become the abominable “no”man which mantle he has assumed. Sinn Fein and DUP need to work together to resolve the outstanding issue of welfare budgets and defuse issues such as flags and symbols and marching seasons.
Most pressing of all the British and Irish governments need to come back to the table and negotiate directly with the parties.
Could the peace be lost? It is a question no one will want to answer i. Remember violence is always lurking if the agreed government fails to function. We are almost at that point.
President Clinton please stand by.