So the impetus which President Bill Clinton provided to the Northern peace process during his third and final visit as office-holder last week is, by all accounts, being sustained. The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, had a telephone conversation with the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, about the controversies hampering full implementation of the Belfast Agreement yesterday; the two leaders will speak again tomorrow and, if necessary, over the Christmas period next week.
Having rolled up his sleeves to get involved in face-to-face talks with Mr Blair, Mr Ahern and the leaders of the pro-agreement parties last week, President Clinton's exhortation at the Odyssey Theatre in Belfast is still ringing in many ears: "What really matters is what you do and whether you decide to give your children not just your own yesterdays, but their own tomorrows". He departed Ireland believing, to use his own American words, that he had left the leaders "a construct", the basis for an agreement; but it would be difficult.
The Taoiseach re-iterated this view following his discussion with Mr Blair yesterday. The deputy First Minister, Mr Seamus Mallon, had characterised the difficulties correctly over the weekend. They had not got to the stage of any major breakthrough. There were difficulties on all sides, he said, and complexities in all parties. For all of that, a new momentum has been injected into the political negotiations by President Clinton. His officials remained on this side of the Atlantic until the weekend. A three-part package has been placed on the table as the basis for a possible deal on demilitarisation, decommissioning and gaining nationalist acceptance of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. Informed reports suggest that Mr Blair and Mr Ahern have the political will to see it through to the end.
The emphasis this time is not on a sequencing arrangement, but a package where all sides move simultaneously to tackle comprehensively the difficulties preventing implementation of the agreement. Mr Blair has to be assured that the dismantling of the British military presence in Crossmaglen - or even Forkhill - will not put him at undue political risk because of security concerns. The Taoiseach and President Clinton have offered to help him in this regard. The IRA has to talk to the Independent International Decommissioning Body about the modalities of putting arms verifiably and permanently beyond use. The manner in which the paramilitaries do so - by concreting over the bunkers or by some other method - is of less concern to the ordinary citizen than the veracity of their intent to put arms beyond use once and for all. And Mr Mallon has to be assured that his imprimatur on the new police service does not mean a return to a tainted RUC. It remains to be seen whether he will hold out for enquiries into the Hamill, Finucance and Nelson cases.
Mr Gerry Adams made a tactical speech in Castlebar yesterday when he confirmed that Sinn Fein is engaged in intense discussions with the British and Irish Governments. He called on the Government to bring the British Government before the International Court of Justice for its breach of the Belfast Agreement. If the present difficulties are to be surmounted, however, it will be by political rather than legal means. He then warned: "If London is serious about making peace then it has to convince Irish republicans that it can be trusted to keep its word. That means delivery now on commitments already made". Over to you too, Mr Adams, to have the IRA commitments of last May honoured.