Dublin PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES
US President Bill Clinton leaves Ireland today after a triumphant visit that has given a powerful boost to the Ulster peace initiative and put Sinn Fein under pressure. As he addressed a crowd of 80,000 in Dublin yesterday the British and Irish governments invited all the Northern Ireland parties to begin the groundwork talks as the first step in the "twin-track" process. These talks will run parallel to the decommissioning discussions.
The letters from Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Dick Spring, the Irish foreign affairs minister, expressed the hope that the meetings could begin at an early date. The warmth of the welcome for Mr Clinton on both sides of the Irish border has put Sinn Fein under pressure and leaves its leader, Gerry Adams, with little option but to co-operate with the proposed arms decommissioning body, headed by Washington's trouble-shooter, former Senator George Mitchell.
Despite Sinn Fein reservations, President Clinton was forceful yesterday in backing the chance of success of the twin-track approach. Praising John Bruton's courage in sealing the accord, he warned against those who found it "easier to stay with the old grudges and habits".
But the fragility of the peace process was highlighted by the continuing hesitation yesterday of Mr Adams when asked if his party endorsed the twin-track approach. He repeated his prediction that his party "would respond positively".
The Clintons' arrival in Dublin yesterday drew huge crowds and, following Mr Clinton's momentous visit to Londonderry and Belfast, sealed a personal political triumph. He delivered a passionate plea for a lasting solution to the troubles and an end to bloodshed.
He called on the Irish people to stand firm alongside Mr Bruton as he took the necessary risks in the search for peace. Mr Clinton later toasted his success with a glass of Irish stout in a Dublin pub bearing his mother's maiden name, Cassidy. He praised the two governments' twin-track initiative as "a brilliant formulation which permits people to go forward ... without giving up any of the things they believe in and have to have. I am inclined to believe it will succeed. The lesson of the past 15 months is that people like peace. They want it to go forwards, not backwards.''
John Major yesterday acclaimed Mr Clinton's trip as giving a "huge boost" to the cause of peace. "Can anyone who witnessed President Clinton's remarkable visit to Northern Ireland seriously contemplate a return to bombing and shooting?" the Prime Minister told the Conservative Women's Conference in Westminster.
Mr Bruton admitted that the President's visit to Britain and Ireland created the opportunity for London and Dublin to reach a breakthrough.
His endorsement came as the membership of the new international body was announced. As expected, it will be chaired by Mr Mitchell, 62. The other two members will be the chief of staff of the Canadian armed forces, General John de Chastelain, 58, and Harri Holkeri, also 58, who was Finland's premier from 1987 to 1991.Reuse content