Bill Clinton soaks up political limelight in Londonderry

Former US President Bill Clinton walks with former Social Democratic Labour Party leader John Hume and Hume"s wife Pat across the Peace Bridge, in Londonderry Bill Clinton walked across Derry's Peace Bridge with John Hume, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)

Much excitement in Londonderry as Bill Clinton takes a stroll across the Peace Bridge and heads to the Guildhall Square to address the public.

But if the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who is also visiting Ireland, walked the same walk, you can't imagine it generating anything like the same buzz.

That seems a little unfair. Okay, President Clinton did play a key role in helping to broker the peace the bridge commemorates. But it was Europe, not the USA, that shelled out the £14m it cost to build the bridge.

Of course, some of the discrepancy in the receptions accorded to the two politicians is down to their individual characters.

Celebrity friends

EU figures like Barroso tend to come across as faceless eurocrats while Bill Clinton is associated with the likes of Bono, Kevin Spacey, and whoever the National Enquirer includes in its latest edition.

However, the contrast also highlights the different roles the USA and Europe play as the leading outside influences on our political process.

Next week, US Vice-President Joe Biden will do his best to try to accentuate the positives in our current difficulties. Over Christmas and New Year it was his fellow Americans Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan who battled unsuccessfully to bring the Stormont parties together.

One reason Dr Haass and Prof O'Sullivan could not deliver was that they had neither a big stick to wave or a succulent carrot to dangle in front of our negotiators. In an alternative universe, one could envisage a European representative having more tools in his or her diplomatic locker. After all, we are still receiving EU Peace Money, albeit not on the same scale as in previous years.

EU snub

However, the long bureaucratic process of approving European funding means it is not feasible to use it as a lever or incentive in negotiations. Plus the fact that both the UK and Ireland are EU member states make it impossible for the EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton to make the kind of interventions in Northern Ireland that she has in relation to places like Iran, Egypt or Somalia.

So when local politicians effectively snub the EU - as happened over the stalled Maze Peace Centre - Eurocrats like the EU Regional Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who officially opened Derry's Peace Bridge, have little choice but to maintain a dignified silence and look around for where else to direct their funding.

The EU may be the big political issue at the other end of Europe, in Ukraine. But here in Northern Ireland it remains regarded mainly as a source of funding for farmers, peace projects and community groups, while Bill Clinton and his successors in Washington DC continue to soak up the political limelight.

Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Sorry no respect for this man. How can a war monger walk over this bridge?

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @Bill Walker
    Yes they are separate issues entirely but ones which are often conflated by clueless Brits, which I think you were doing too:
    "It was interesting to note that this funding dropped by a considerable margin post 9/11 when it was brought home to the Americans what terrorism actually meant."
    This is doubtful since the money was not being sent to the IRA at that stage anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @32 yeahme
    "On another point, why do so many Brits think it was 9/11 that stopped NORAID funding and forced the IRA to negotiate,"
    They are separate issues. 9/11 cut down the funding from the U.S. The IRA was forced to the negotiating table due to improved intelligence and the number of Catholics so sickened by the killings that most of their operations were "blown" before they took place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What's also remarkable is Bill Clinton's ability to get the British interested in N. Ireland affairs, as we see from the unusually high number of comments on a NI politics blog.

    On another point, why do so many Brits think it was 9/11 that stopped NORAID funding and forced the IRA to negotiate, when the GFA was signed three and half years prior to it? Not having a clue maybe?


Comments 5 of 36



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