Monday, 27 July 2009
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, is no stranger to Northern Ireland and an autumn visit here, if the current speculation proves correct, would be most welcome.
There is also strong speculation that she may be appointed by President Obama as the new special envoy to Northern Ireland. The post was previously held by career diplomats, and Senator George Mitchell also showed how a seasoned politician can bring an important dimension to peace-making here.
Much progress has been made since George Mitchell made his unique contribution by paving the way for the Good Friday Agreement. As Chancellor, until recently, of Queen’s University he also kept a friendly eye on the Province as he carried out his official duties and also renewed his contacts.
He has now moved on, and in his current onerous task as a Special Envoy to the Middle East, his experience here will no doubt prove beneficial.
In the recent past diplomats, including Richard Hass and Paula Dobriansky, have played an important role as Special Envoys to Northern Ireland, but it appeared initially that President Obama was unwilling to fill the post full-time.
Northern Ireland has made progress, but the Stormont power-sharing is still a fledgling experiment, and it would be foolhardy to suppose that this Province and its politicians could or should ignore offers of outside help and advice.
Hillary Clinton is well-placed to fill the role of Special Envoy, even on a part-time basis. She is a partner in one of the most influential political dynasties in the United States and together with her husband President Bill Clinton, she has made a significant contribution to building peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
There is no doubt that Bill Clinton played a major role here when he was the US president, and without his sustained interest and political skills it is doubtful if the final obstacles to the Good Friday Agreement would have been overcome.
Hillary Clinton made her own contribution, not only as First Lady, but also as a shrewd politician who developed a close empathy with the people of Northern Ireland, and particularly with women’s groups.
Obviously the situation has changed on the ground since her previous visits, but she knows enough about this Province to pick up quickly the more recent developments, and even more important, she understands the politics and the passions which makes Northern Ireland what it is.
The appointment of a Special Envoy, and the identity of such an incumbent, is a matter for President Obama who has many other major preoccupations. Nevertheless he will be keen to do the right thing by this Province and its people.
In the meantime, every welcome should be given to Hillary Clinton if and when she returns to Northern Ireland some time in the autumn. She has a wealth of experience and contacts to share with our political, economic and community leaders, and Northern Ireland will continue to need help at the highest levels to promote and sustain an economic progress to match that of the peace process.
There is no better person to provide that help than Hillary Clinton, and her visit this autumn, if it materialises, could have a significant impact on our economic and political progress and, above all, on the prospects for a peaceful future.