Clinton condemns violence
There was “no place in the new Northern Ireland for violence”, Hillary Clinton told a press conference at Stormont yesterday on what is likely to be her last official visit to Belfast.
The US secretary of state’s term runs out on January 20th and she has stated she will be stepping down from President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
Flanked by Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, she “joined all the political leaders and citizens in condemning” the escalation of violence after a vote to remove the union flag from Belfast City Hall .
The US senator said she was particularly “distressed” at the news that east Belfast MP Naomi Long – a member of the non-sectarian Alliance party – had received death threats. It was the Alliance party which had proposed the motion to only fly the flag on selected days, a compromise between the clashing views of unionist and nationalist councillors.
Hard work of reconciliation
“I know Naomi and obviously I am very distressed,” Mrs Clinton said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable. However, the violence is also a reminder that although much progress has been made, the hard work of reconciliation [is not over] . . . There will always be disagreements, people have strong feelings . . . but the only path forward is a peaceful, democratic one.”
It was 17 years since she and her husband Bill, the former US president, had first come to Belfast, she remembered, to switch on the Christmas tree lights behind a bullet-proof screen – at Belfast City Hall.
“I remember it as if it was yesterday,” she said. “There was a little girl named Catherine who had lost her father in the Troubles. She said her Christmas wish was that peace and love would last forever. . . There will always be disagreements in democratic societies, but violence is never an acceptable response.”
The 65-year-old politician stressed the importance of economic regeneration, pointing out that $530 million in aid had been provided through the International Fund for Ireland. It was not merely a question of “peace but also prosperity”. She was “very keen on continuing to be of whatever assistance I can to maintain our connection but also to promote economic recovery”.
Welcoming Mrs Clinton, Mr Robinson said she had “consistently been there to help us . . . You recognised, as few others did, that the process of peace lasted beyond getting agreement”. Mr McGuinness called her a “true and wonderful friend to all the people of Ireland”. Mrs Clinton was presented with a sculpture by Derry artist Maurice Harron, depicting three figures, two women and one man, titled Agreement.