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Tuesday 19 June 2018

'Don't return to hell' - Clinton's warning as north impasse drags on

Bill Clinton giving his speech
Bill Clinton giving his speech

Former President of the United States Bill Clinton has warned that unless parties involved in the impasse at Stormont resolve their differences they risk languishing in purgatory or returning "to hell".

Last night, Mr Clinton delivered the keynote address to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement at the George Moore Auditorium in UCD's O'Brien Centre for Science.

The marking of the Good Friday Accord comes amid the collapse of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and concerns that Brexit could see the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Corrosive

The turmoil at Stormont has led some to question the sustainability of the 20-year-old agreement.

Mr Clinton warned of the corrosive impact inertia can have on a people.

He said there were limits to the elasticity of paralysis and made three pleas to Ireland, to avoid undermining the work of the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid democracy being eroded.

"My first plea is this thing has lasted, don't let it go," Mr Clinton told the assembled crowd at the event.

"One of three things is going to happen in the North.

"The whole thing will fall apart and you will go back into the hell that now people have forgotten from the Troubles.

"Or, two, you can stay in purgatory, where you got denied dreams and broken hopes and you'll just rock along, caught on a sea of lost chances.

"If you do that, slowly you will begin to lose a democracy in the North.

"Or three, everybody can rear back, settle down and make a new beginning. Whatever compromises have to be made to minimise the damage of Brexit, to keep the markets as open as possible and share the government.

"It is so easy to underestimate the fragility of the situation you have come to take for granted."

Compromise

He added the key to moving forward is compromise.

"You have to be willing to give. Compromise has to become a good thing, not a dirty word," he said.

"And voters have to stop punishing people who make those compromises - and start rewarding them.

"There is a limit to the elasticity of inertia, of paralysis," he added.

"So my position on this is pretty certain, I basically believe that you should celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, not for what happened but for what can happen."

He said that when society is given no sign of the prospect of mobility and moving forward, extremism will prevail.

"The only thing that will be calamitous is if you consigned yourself to a purgatory of paralysis or go back to hell instead of moving forward," he told the crowd.

Mr Clinton considers the Northern Ireland peace process his greatest foreign policy achievement and said it broke "like thunder across the world".

He said it was born out of a desire to stop children dying.

"The Irish peace was born out of weariness of children dying and of lost chances," he said.

"The further you get away from that, the easier it is to take the absence of bad for granted and live in this purgatory where we are now. It's a big mistake."

He also spoke of the value and importance of compromise and not creating a society based on "Us versus Them".

"Inclusive decisions are always better than homogenous ones or lone genius," he said.

Victories

He recalled staying up to 2.30am on the eve of the Good Friday Agreement and speaking to Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, John Hume, George Mitchell, Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair and David Trimble.

He said that the situation in Northern Ireland reminds him that "there are no final victories or defeats" and that "the most important thing is to fight the right fight and keep doing it".

He described the UK's exit from the European Union in general as an identity crisis.

"What will happen with Brexit? ... No one will drop off the face of the earth with the reasonable compromises being discussed," he added.

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