In Northern Ireland, Hillary Clinton Urges Cooperation

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BELFAST, Oct. 12 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried on Monday to shore up the peace process that her husband helped launch in Northern Ireland, urging its politicians to have the courage to tackle remaining disagreements.

Clinton brought her star power to a country she came to know well in the 1990s, as President Bill Clinton helped broker the Good Friday peace accords. The pact is credited with ending the religious violence that had caused more than 3,600 deaths since 1969.

But the peace is fragile. Lately, members of the country's power-sharing government have been feuding over a key step in the process -- transferring control of the justice system from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Clinton urged Northern Ireland legislators to work together, pointing to the assassinations of three security officials in March as evidence of the lingering threat of dissident paramilitary groups.

"There are still those looking to seize any opportunity to undermine the process and destabilize this government," Clinton said in her speech in the hilltop legislature.

"They want to derail your confidence. And though they are small in number, their thuggish tactics and destructive ambitions threaten the security of every family in Northern Ireland," she said. "Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history."

Clinton spoke from a podium in the well of the 108-member assembly, surrounded by people who played major roles during "the troubles."

On one side of the wood-paneled hall sat Catholic lawmakers including Gerry Adams, the bearded leader of the Sinn Fein party, the political arm of the now-disarmed Irish Republican Army. On the other side, amid Protestant legislators, sat Ian Paisley, the stooped, white-haired longtime leader of the Protestant-dominated Democratic Unionist Party.

Clinton told the legislators that her concern about Northern Ireland was "deeply personal," recalling her first visit to Belfast in 1995, when sections of her hotel were boarded up because of bomb blasts. She reminisced about how she and her husband were greeted at a rally by tens of thousands of residents.

"There were people stretched in all directions as far as I could see . . . all with upraised faces," she told the legislators. "I have carried that image in my mind over the last 14 years."

During the Democratic presidential primaries last year, Clinton touted her involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process as evidence of her foreign policy qualifications.

But the Barack Obama's campaign called those assertions wild exaggerations, and former Northern Ireland leader David Trimble said her main contribution was as a "cheerleader." Other Irish political leaders have praised her actions in bringing women into the peace process.

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