Clinton urges North to ‘finish job’ of peace process

Former US president honours former SDLP leader John Hume in Derry

Former US president Bill Clinton with former SDLP leader John Hume and Mr Hume’s wife, Pat, as they walk the Peace Bridge in Derry yesterday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire


Northern Ireland politicians and people must "finish the job" of resolving the final issues of the peace process, former US president Bill Clinton has urged.

Mr Clinton, on a visit to Derry yesterday to honour former SDLP leader John Hume, made reference to the Haass talks aimed at dealing with the issues of parades, flags and the past.

In a speech to hundreds of people in Guild Hall Square, Mr Clinton said it was not for him to detail how the outstanding issues might be sorted out, but rather the challenge was for local politicians and people.

Former US president Bill Clinton speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry yesterday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Former US president Bill Clinton with former SDLP leader John Hume and Mr Hume’s wife, Pat, at the Guildhall in Derry yesterday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

“You have to finish the job,” he said. “There are still issues that remain unresolved after 19 years since the ceasefire and after 16 years since the Good Friday accord. How that is resolved is not for me to say; it is for you say,” he added.

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"One of my fellow Americans, Richard Haass, did his best to start talks that would lead to a resolution. They haven't yet. But the most important thing is that you finish the job, that you free yourselves of the past so that you can embrace it and be proud of it and not be imprisoned by it," added Mr Clinton.

He referred to other countries and regions such as Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia. Colombia and the Basque region of Spain that were striving for accords similar to the peace that was achieved in the North.

All were learning lessons from the Northern Ireland experience. “Never underestimate the impact that this small place has had on the large world because of that peace agreement,” he said.

Mr Clinton earlier walked Derry’s new Peace Bridge with Mr Hume and his wife Pat. He was joined by the Humes at the Guild Hall. In his speech he paid special tribute to Mr Hume for helping create the conditions that led to the IRA and loyalist ceasefires of 1994 and for his work as one the chief architects of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

“Once more, I want to thank you for honouring my great friend John Hume for all he has done and all he has meant for Derry and for the peace process,” he said to applause.

During his speech, one man heckled Mr Clinton with a reference to Iraq. A small group of about four or five people also protested against his presence, with two of them displaying placards which stated, “Clinton, Bush, Obama - War Criminals” and “There’s blood on your hands Bill”.

Mr Hume said it was an “incredible honour” for Derry that Mr Clinton, who first visited the city in 1995, was back again.

“I am deeply appreciative for all the work he has done to help Northern Ireland, in spite of all the difficulties during his time in the Oval Office,” he said.

“Bill Clinton had economic difficulties and international difficulties to deal with during his administration, yet he gave so much time to Northern Ireland and the peace process,” he added.

“Pat and I are delighted that Bill Clinton is here in Derry, a town and its people transformed by peace and which we are all so proud of,” said Mr Hume.

In the Guildhall Square the University of Ulster vice-chancellor Prof Richard Barnett announced that the £3 million required to secure a permanent endowed chair of peace studies had been raised.

The professorship at the university’s Magee campus in Derry will be named after Mr Hume and Tip O’Neill, the late speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Among the VIPs at yesterday’s event were O’Neill’s son Tommy and his wife Shelly.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times