US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly. Her visit to the province comes amidst crucial negotiations over the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Executive, as reported by Left Foot Forward last week.
Clinton is widely acknowledged to have developed strong links with the province, stretching back to 1995 when her husband, as President received a rapturous reception in his first trip to Ulster. Eluding to the substantial progress that has been made, Clinton told Assembly Members:
- “And today, Northern Ireland stands as an example to the world of how even the staunchest adversaries can overcome differences to work together for the common and greater good.”
However, it was on the crucial issue of the completion of the devolution process which has so dogged Northern Ireland politics recently that Clinton gave perhaps her most poignant remarks. Whilst pledging the support of the Obama administration in helping in the process of “finishing the journey”, she continued:
- “Now, we know what it means to be supportive. And we also know what it means to meddle. And I want to be clear that when it comes to the important issue of devolution, of policing and justice, that is a decision for this assembly to make.”
It was a signal that Northern Ireland is now in the difficult but ultimately rewarding process of normalizing as a country. Where once it would look to those from outside to drive the peace process and negotiations forward, it is now for Northern Ireland’s democratically elected institutions and leaders to under take the difficult task of reaching compromise and healing the rifts that have dogged the province for so long.
And in an apparent, and increasingly rare sign of unity, during a press conference with Secretary Clinton, First Minister Peter Robinson and his Deputy Martin MuGuinness, while acknowledging the difficulties involved in devolving policing and justice powers, affirmed that they were “committed to making it happen”.
Their comments came as Gordon Brown prepares to write to all Members of the Assembly with details of a £600 million package from Westminster to pay for the running of policing and justice from Stormont over the course of this Assembly and the next.
During her visit to the province, news also came through that the US based healthcare communications network, NaviNet would be investing £4.4 million into Northern Ireland, leading to the creation of 60 high valued skilled jobs. While not a massive number, it was a sign of the possibilities that will open up to Ulster if is can complete the final stage of the Good Friday Agreement.
However, in a sign of the tensions that still exist, Sinn Fein Assembly Member Daithi McKay accused DUP members Gregory Campbell and William McCrea of “publicly snubbing the US Secretary of State” as they left the Assembly chamber rather than joining in the standing ovation for Secretary Clinton. In his defence, Campbell noted that Clinton had finished her speech and that “we all have important business to do particularly the economic regeneration of NI”. Campbell and McCrea are regarded as being among the hard-line DUP sceptics of any devolution of policing and justice responsibilities.
Clinton’s visit came just a day after the republican dissident group, the Irish National Liberation Army announced its decision to reject violence and pursue its objectives instead through peaceful, political means.
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