‘Wake me in middle of the night,’ Bill Clinton told David Trimble

Transcripts shows active role of former US president during early days of peace process

David Trimble, Bill Clinton, Seamus Mallon and Tony Blair at Stormont in 2000. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

David Trimble, Bill Clinton, Seamus Mallon and Tony Blair at Stormont in 2000. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Transcripts of telephone calls between the former US president Bill Clinton and participants in the Northern Ireland peace process show Mr Clinton was deeply involved in the negotiations and choreography of the early days of the process.

The documents, released by the Clinton Presidential Library to The Irish Times, show Mr Clinton weighing in at crucial times in the peace process between the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and the resuscitation of the power-sharing institutions in 2000 following the crisis over IRA decommissioning.

The files contain transcripts of telephone calls between Mr Clinton and the leaders of the Northern parties, principally Gerry Adams and David Trimble, and with then-taoiseach Bertie Ahern and then-British prime minister Tony Blair.

They tend to show a much closer and warmer relationship between the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Mr Clinton than the US president had with the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble – something acknowledged by Mr Clinton in one call when he acknowledges to Mr Trimble “most of your people think I have been too close to them ”.

During a call after the overwhelming endorsement of the Belfast Agreement in the 1998 referendum, Mr Adams accepts Mr Clinton’s congratulations before asking him to say hello to his wife and handing over the phone.

Accept assurances

However, Mr Clinton pushed Mr Adams hard on IRA decommissioning, though he appears to accept Mr Adams’s assurances that the IRA will not move in response to Sinn Féin’s urgings.

“The big thing is to keep the IRA sidelined and spectating in this,” Mr Adams tells Mr Clinton at one point in their discussions.

The transcripts also demonstrate the extent to which Mr Clinton, in consultation with Mr Blair and Mr Ahern, sought to bolster Mr Trimble’s often precarious position.

In one call from Air Force One, he tells Mr Trimble “you can wake me in the middle of the night” if he thinks that the US president can be of any help in the talks.

Mr Clinton also discussed with Mr Adams the importance of keeping Mr Trimble in place as Ulster Unionist leader, at a time when he was under intense pressure from his party over IRA decommissioning.

“I think he is going to do it. I’ll bet you a dollar he goes for it,” Mr Adams says to the president at one point.

“That is a dollar I would love to pay off,” Mr Clinton replies.

“It sounds silly and I couldn’t say to him like I can to you, but we’ll make sure he’s okay,” Mr Adams says. “I look forward to taking your money.”