Clinton backed out of NI panel talk after aide raised concerns

New emails show former secretary of state’s backroom dealings on Northern Ireland

Hillary Clinton ruled herself out of a panel discussion on Northern Ireland in 2009 involving Irish and British politicians at a meeting of her family's charity after an aide raised concerns about how it might look, newly-released emails show.

Mrs Clinton, then Secretary of State, was asked by her aides for her opinion on the discussion in September 2009 after the then UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward proposed the talk at the Clinton Global Initiative, the meeting of the Clinton charitable foundation in New York.

The private dealings involving Mrs Clinton and her tightly-knit circle of advisers at the State Department were revealed through emails released in response to the controversy surrounding her use of a personal email account to conduct US government business.

Several emails refer to Mrs Clinton’s dealings with Northern Ireland during her time as President Obama’s first secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.


In August 2009, Mr Woodward wrote to Mrs Clinton's unofficial adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who forwarded the idea on to her, about the possibility of hosting a panel discussion on "Implementing Peace" in Northern Ireland chaired by former US president Bill Clinton and involving the British and Irish prime ministers and possibly Northern Irish leaders.

Mr Blumenthal told Mrs Clinton in a follow-up emailed note marked “confidential” that Mr Clinton had “conveyed to me his approval, contingent on approval of the State Department.”

Mrs Clinton responded favourably to the idea of the panel discussion, telling her husband's then adviser Doug Band by email on August 10th, 2010: "I think this is a good idea and see no conflict."

In a replying email sent less than five minutes later, one of her main advisers Cheryl Mills raised concerns.

“Let’s discuss,” she told Mrs Clinton on August 10th, 2009. “I can see how they might feel differently so we should have a frame for how we go at it if we chose this for your CGI event.”

“I wouldn’t be part of it,” Mrs Clinton replied by email.

The discussion went ahead the following month. It was moderated by President Clinton and featured Mr Woodward, the then Irish minister for foreign affairs Micheal Martin and Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Mrs Clinton did not participate.

Businessman Declan Kelly, whom Mrs Clinton appointed as her economic envoy to Northern Ireland in 2009, was also on the panel.

In another email sent at the end of August 2009, Mrs Clinton expressed her delight that Mr Kelly had received full security clearance from the State Department to take up his role in Northern Ireland on her behalf.

“Yeah!! Is he now official? Can I call him? Can I ask him to start?” Mrs Clinton asked Ms Mills in an email on August 28th, 2009.

The secretary showed an eagerness to make the announcement public immediately and to have Mr Kelly start in the new role.

“Can you get announce [sic] ready so as soon as I reach him you can get it out?” she asked her adviser in a Friday late afternoon email.

Ms Mills said she could announce it the following Monday at the earliest.

“He’s thrilled,” Mrs Clinton emailed back. “[He] wants to know when it’s actually out but [he]will keep it close hold until then. I want to send him to both Ireland and the North as soon as possible.”

A native of Co Tipperary, Mr Kelly, who runs the New York public relations and corporate advisory firm Teneo with Mr Band, served as economic envoy from September 2009 to May 2011. His brother Alan is Minister for the Environment and deputy leader of the Labour Party.

The State Department released a further 3,000 of Mrs Clinton’s emails dating from March 2009 to December 2009 on Tuesday evening.

The emails show Mrs Clinton struggling to use a fax machine, mocking Fox News saying that their shows "need at least one sane realistic voice" and grumbling to staff about turning up at the White House for meetings without being told that they had been cancelled.

Mrs Clinton at times appears to be isolated from the White House at the State Department. In June 2009 she emailed her aides asking about a meeting of Mr Obama’s cabinet that she heard about in the media. The meeting turned out not to be a full cabinet meeting.

“I heard on the radio that there is a cabinet mtg [sic] this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?” she wrote.

In response to her controversial use of a personal email address, a US judge ordered the State Department to release her private emails in batches every 30 days until all 55,000 pages of emails that Mrs Clinton handed over to the State Department in December are released.

The most recent emails showing the heavy involvement of Mr Blumenthal, a former adviser to Mr Clinton, as her adviser to have raised eyebrows in political circles.

The Obama administration reportedly disapproved of him reporting to her at the State Department over his role in the bitter primary election fight between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama in the 2008 presidential race.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times