Will a Clinton Visit Unsettle N. Ireland? He May Push 'Yes' Vote in May 22 Referendums. Some Protestants Call It Foreign Interference

By Alexander MacLeod, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 1998 | Go to article overview

Will a Clinton Visit Unsettle N. Ireland? He May Push 'Yes' Vote in May 22 Referendums. Some Protestants Call It Foreign Interference


Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The message to President Clinton from hard-line Northern Ireland Protestants is: Stay at home, and let us decide our own destiny.

But if the May 22 referendums on the peace agreement in the province and Ireland are to be won, and peace secured, a heavy White House shove may yet be needed.

Mr. Clinton has already played a pivotal role in the pursuit of peace. A series of phone calls by the president to party leaders helped clinch the Belfast agreement in the critical final negotiating stage. After last Friday's agreement, he offered to travel to Northern Ireland "if it would help." A successful Clinton visit to the province two years ago helped to kick-start the peace process. But the situation today is different and shows signs of great fluidity. Opinion polls immediately after the agreement showed 73 percent in favor in Northern Ireland, 60 percent in Ireland, and 81 percent on the British mainland. But there are deep disagreements among influential Protestant power-brokers. At a news conference yesterday, David Trimble, leader of the moderate pro-British Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), called on his supporters to back the peace plan, saying, "It is the best deal that is available, warts and all. There isn't a better one available, and there isn't a realistic alternative." But a formidable coalition of opponents is already building. On Wednesday the Rev. Ian Paisley, firebrand leader of the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), launched a "no" campaign and promised to hold rallies throughout Northern Ireland. Dr. Paisley calls the peace pact "the mother of all treachery" and insists a Clinton visit would be "interference." After the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement on Northern Ireland between London and Dublin, Paisley played a leading part in fomenting the province-wide Protestant workers' strike that forced its collapse. Since then, Northern Ireland has endured 25 more years of sectarian violence and murder. …

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