Clintons are true friends of Irish unity

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America — take a deep breath. You only have less than three weeks before this Presidential Election from Hell is history.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has been working overtime, as in the debate on Wednesday night with his desperate, off-the-wall smearing of Bill and Hillary Clinton. If you listen to his damning claims, you would think the Clintons were Devils incarnate. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was our President for two terms from 1993 to 2001. Hillary Clinton served as our Secretary of State, under Democratic President Barack Obama, from 2009 to 2013. Before that, she also served for two distinguished terms as a U.S. Senator (Democrat) from New York State from 2001 to 2009.

Most of the hot air coming out of this campaign is exactly that: hot air. After the General Election of Nov. 8, all those election-related charges/counter-charges will end up where they rightfully belong — in the dust bin of history.

I want to underscore a point about the Clintons and just one aspect of their visionary politics. Bill and Hillary evolved into loyal and persistent friends to the principle of Irish Unity. I’m talking here about the moral and legal issue of a United Ireland and to the end to the blood-stained British colonial state of Northern Ireland.

Before Bill Clinton became president, the closest any Irish-American activists, like myself, could get to the White House, was on the outside of that iron fence that surrounds it, carrying a “Brits Out of Ireland” protest sign! The Republican Presidents before Clinton, such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, did absolutely nothing-zippo-on this important human rights/freedom issue.

After Clinton won the presidency, however, the situation changed dramatically. He appointed Jay K. Footlik as a Special Assistant. This young, energetic lawyer from Buffalo Grove, IL, a splendid public servant, got things rolling. He kept the Irish-American activist community in the loop. We started getting invitations closer to the seats of power.

Gerry Adams at the National Press Club
Gerry Adams at the National Press Club

For example, on December 20, 1993, I was a part of a contingent of Irish-American activists, who met in the Executive Office Building, with Ms. Jane Holl, Director of European Affairs (NSA). Along with the appointment of a Peace Envoy to the North of Ireland, one of the issues on the agenda that day was our argument for a visa for Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein. That request would soon be granted on January 30, 1994.

In approving the visa, the President had the full support of the First Lady. He later added these telling remarks: “Absent that first step, that first risk, we might not have had the momentum to move forward and get to the ‘Good Friday Agreement.’”

More about that critically important “Good Friday Agreement” in a moment.

Getting back to Footlik. After the meeting with Holl, he also arranged sessions — again with a group of Irish-American activists — over the issue of Human Rights in Northern Ireland, with officials of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.; and later, with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Belfast. I was privileged to be a part of those two discussions.

Around that same time, we also met with the U.S. Consulate General to Northern Ireland, at his residence in Belfast. Some of the leaders of the Unionist political parties in the North, and officials of the British government, were in attendance. We exchanged views with each other about the situation in Northern Ireland.

A cease-fire was declared in Northern Ireland, in 1994. President Clinton and the First Lady visited the province in 1995. He soon appointed former U.S. Sen. John Mitchell as a U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland. It was Sen. Mitchell who helped steer the parties to formalize the “Good Friday Agreement,” completed in 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement calls for a non-violent settlement of disputed matters in Northern Ireland, between all the parties. It also set out a process that could eventually lead to a United Ireland.

All during the above time, many influential members of the U.S. Congress were letting President Clinton know that he was doing the right thing on the Irish issue and that they had his back covered.

After the Clinton presidency, Hillary Clinton continued to pursue the goal of a United Ireland using peaceful means, through her laudable work as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State.

When the Good Friday Agreement was approved, in May, 1998, the White House held a celebration party on the White House lawn, where the President spoke, with his First Lady standing beside him. I was one of the invitees. (Thanks again to Jay K. Footlik.) It was, indeed, a wonderful moment to witness.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have proven themselves true friends of Irish Unity but more work, however, needs to be done. A roadmap to peace, justice and unity had been set by the Clintons. It’s now up to the people of good will, in the North and South of Ireland, and in London, too, to make Irish Unity a reality.