President Clinton couldn’t get Northern Ireland’s politicos to agree to a peace deal before he ended his final visit there — but he did get them to come together and do the wave.
As Clinton kept a 6,000-strong crowd waiting at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, the public address system blasted out a tune from Belfast-born Van Morrison, “Brown Eyed Girl.”
And as the wave began working its way round the indoor stadium, Northern Ireland’s best-known figures — as well as some of its stiffest — joined in.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, standing in an otherwise empty part of the stands, did their best to keep it going with big grins and arms raised high.
Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson managed a halfhearted leap. The province’s former police chief, Sir John Hermon — who once tried his best to put Adams and McGuinness behind bars — got his hair mussed in the effort.
That wasn’t a problem for a Protestant terrorist-turned-politician, David Ervine, who had a few Catholic ladies rub his famously bald pate for luck as they all waved together.
A Bad Time in Belfast The event was unfortunately one of few highlights after Clinton arrived in Belfast from a hero-like reception in the neighboring Irish Republic.
Despite drawing a road map for the British-ruled province to follow for peace, Clinton ended the third visit to Ireland of his presidency with only optimistic words and a vow to step up the fight against terrorism.
While Clinton slept in Belfast, Vice President Al Gore was all but knocked out of the race to replace him and continue his policies, not least on Northern Ireland.
Then Clinton ran into a brick wall from hard-line Protestant politicians in Belfast. They told him that in the search for peace in Northern Ireland, the United States unfairly favored the IRA’s Roman Catholic minority.
During a meeting with Northern Ireland parliamentarians, Cedric Wilson gave him a letter describing the Good Friday peace pact as “an appeasement mechanism to meet the demands of terrorism and in particular the terrorism of the IRA.”
The hardliners are in the minority among Protestants but they do not waste any chance to derail the peace process.
Clinton Plows On Despite the setbacks, Clinton plowed on with talks with the main political leaders of the British-ruled province of 1.6 million people.
Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell emerged from nearly three hours of negotiations with only one clear decision.
Britain, Ireland and the United States would step up their fight against terrorism that might threaten Northern Ireland’s peace.
“Dissident extremists have nowhere left to hide,” Clinton declared in the keynote speech of his visit.
The 1998 Good Friday peace accord negotiated by Mitchell is foundering over Protestant demands for greater commitment by the IRA to disarm and Catholic demands for reform of Northern Ireland’s Protestant-majority police force.
The Irish Republican Army and other mainstream guerrilla groups are observing cease-fires but dissidents on both sides of the sectarian divide have been responsible for sporadic violence. Seventeen people have been killed this year.
“There must be security normalization and (guerrilla) arms must be put beyond use,” Clinton said, bracketing Catholic demands that Britain should reduce its military presence with the demands of Protestants for the IRA to disarm.
“Today was not about breakthroughs,” U.S. National Security spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
Martin McGuinness, a leader of Sinn Fein, political ally of the Irish Republican Army, said the meetings “covered a lot of ground about the present difficulties.
“Hopefully the meetings will concentrate minds.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to report.