Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland in Dublin
President's Visit to Ireland
Q. Mr. President, why do you keep coming back to Ireland?
The President. Well, I got invited. And you know, I've had a special interest, in my tenure here, in the peace process. And the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair have worked hard, as the parties in Northern Ireland have, and there's still a little work to be done. So I thought maybe if I came back, I could help a little, and I hope I can.
Northern Ireland Peace Process
Q. What's your message to the politicians, to the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, to the paramilitaries?
The President. Well, first, I think the people, by and large, have embraced the peace and are in some ways leading the process. And I don't think they want to go back. I think the leadership of the Irish Government, the Taoiseach particularly, and the support of the British Government have helped. I think the incredible success of the Irish economy has helped.
I think people can see the benefits of peace. So my message is, to those parties which aren't involved in the process, they ought to join and not wreck it. There's too much to be gained, and too much has already been gained. And to those who are part of the process and have disagreements, I hope they'll try to work them out.
Q. Mr. President, do you care to comment on the suggestion that after you leave the White House, you might be prepared to become a special peace envoy to Ireland?
The President. [Laughter] Well, I think the new President, whoever it may be, will want to have a new team in place, and I will support that. I want to support whatever decisions the new administration makes on foreign policy. And if I can be a resource, I will. If I can ever help the Irish, of course I will.
But I think in terms of my Government's representation, that will be entirely up to the new President, and I will support whatever decisions are made on that.
Q. Taoiseach, do you expect the President's visit, and especially the visit to Belfast tomorrow, to move the process forward? At the moment, it's caught up in the old difficulties over demilitarization—and all the rest of it. Do you expect the President——
Prime Minister Ahern. Well, first, I say it's a great honor for us in the Irish Government and, I think, everybody in Ireland that the President is here. He is more and more welcome than I think even his other two visits. We're so pleased, and I think everybody in this country is pleased, and all of you in the media know that from the reaction over the last number of weeks since it was confirmed.
Of course I think the President can help. To expect all of the problems to be resolved in one go, of course, is impractical. But the very fact the President's coming has helped in the last few weeks for people to focus on still what are difficulties and to try to narrow down those difficulties and to look at the possibilities—and they are only possibilities—of what we can do.
I know that the talks we'll have now, the talks during the course of the day and tomorrow and the visit to Dundalk tonight, will allow people to see all that we have achieved. And I think now, what we're doing is, we're dealing with some of the side issues that are still residual issues out of the Good Friday agreement, and we still have to deal with those. And we are dealing with them, and this visit will help that.
Q. Taoiseach, will you miss Bill Clinton when he steps down?
Prime Minister Ahern. I will, yes. No doubt about that.
Q. Mr. President, when you were here, you called on the parties to take a risk for peace. Are we now at a situation where you will call on the parties again to take a further risk?
The President. Well, I think we have to keep going. I don't think there's—I don't think reversal is an option. And as I said, the people are not there. It's obvious to me, from all the human contact, just the increasing cross-border contacts, that the people want this thing to go on. And I think the leaders just have to find a way through the last three or four difficult issues, and I think it can be done.
I'll do what I can to be helpful.
Q. You really care about this, don't you?
The President. Yes, I do. I always have. You know—let me just say, the Americans—you know, the American people, about 40 million of us have some Irish blood. And we also have had a unique relationship with Great Britain. It's been—I mean, they burned the White House in 1814, but since then it's been pretty good. [Laughter] You know, we fought two World Wars together; we stayed through the cold war together. And the way it used to be was a source of immense pain to a lot of Americans. Many of the American people who have wanted to be involved had no constructive way to do that. And I hope and believe we've changed that over the last 8 years.
So to me, it's just a question of you've just got to keep going and keep bringing more and more and more people in, because the Irish have proved that you can do this.
I said something before when I was here, I'll say again: I don't think you can possibly imagine the impact of a success in the Irish peace process on trouble spots throughout the world. That's another thing that's been very important to me as the President of the United States, because I have to be involved in Latin America and Asia and Africa, the Balkans.
And so I care a lot about this. But I also— I want you to know how much people around the world look to your—and draw courage from what you do here.
NOTE: The exchange began at 12:15 p.m. in the Office of the Taoiseach. In his remarks, the President referred to Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.
William J. Clinton, Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland in Dublin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/226979