Bill Clinton provides timely reminder to North’s politicians on visit to Derry

It is almost 20 years since the former US president’s first visited the city and this time he urged Northern Ireland to ‘finish the course’

Pat Hume with her husband and former SDLP leader John Hume and Bill Clinton walk across the Peace Bridge. Photograph: Jonathan Porter

Pat Hume with her husband and former SDLP leader John Hume and Bill Clinton walk across the Peace Bridge. Photograph: Jonathan Porter


We learned two things from Bill Clinton’s visit to Derry: the first was that the former US president wants politicians to get on with it and complete the peace process. “Finish the job.” And second, the blurb on Phil Coulter’s next CD of Celtic classics or Eurovision hits.

As the warm-up act the crowd was reminded that Coulter’s great Derry anthem, The Town I loved So Well , was on the list of Clinton’s all-time top 20 songs. So, naturally, he sang it – which greatly pleased the man from Hope in Arkansas.

After the speechifying Clinton took the microphone one more time outside Guild Hall Square to say: “I would have come here and not said a word to hear him sing in the square one more time in my life.”

Up on the stage behind his piano Coulter beamed and perhaps even contemplated another US tour.

But the day wasn’t about Coulter; it was about the 42nd president of the United States and his great friend John Hume. With Hume’s wife Pat alongside they walked the Peace Bridge together.

Isolated dissent
At the Guildhall Clinton was solicitous of his friend, the pair of them walking arm

-in-arm to the podium ahead of the speech.

There was one heckle about Iraq from somebody up on Derry’s walls and about four or five clustered together in the square displaying a couple of placards calling Clinton, Bush and Obama “war criminals”.

But that was no trouble to Clinton who still manages to exude that warm down-home quality of easy appeal to people.

The occasion was also a reminder that this peace process has been going on a long time and people are getting on a bit.

Clinton and many in the crowd found it hard to credit that it is almost 20 years since he first visited Derry, speaking then to 25,000 people in the same square in 1995.

It was a time of fervour and hope after the August 1994 IRA ceasefire, a longing that was to be dashed in 1996 when that ceasefire ended.

However, as also can’t be gainsaid, people like Clinton, now aged 67 and Hume, 10 years older, stuck with the project. And the consequence was that a lasting cessation was declared by the IRA in 1997.

Missed opportunity of Haass
Was it any wonder that so many years on, and so many grey hairs later, that you could sense

the former president’s frustration that Richard Haass’s blueprint for dealing with flags, parades and the past has not been grasped?

Clinton had more wit than to dictate to Northern politicians what they should do on Haass, but his mantra was clear: “You have inspired the world; you have to finish this.”

And prompted by the sight of people with Ash Wednesday ashes on their foreheads he concluded by citing Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the course.”

Clinton, in quiet evangelical mode, exhorted and admonished: “Well you have fought a good fight and I can look in your eyes and see that you have kept the faith. You have not finished the course.”