Bill Clinton drafted in to end Northern Ireland impasse
Former US president called to broker power-sharing agreement after months of deadlock between Sinn Fein and unionists
Bill Clinton has been drafted in to help end Northern Ireland’s political impasse, after months of talks failed to result in a power-sharing agreement.
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved administration since the government collapsed in January. Following an election which saw gains for Sinn Fein, nationalists have been engaged in a tense stand-off with their unionist counterparts over the formation of a new government at Stormont.
The biggest sticking point between the two has been the rights of Irish language speakers, a red line for many unionists.
Now Reuters has reported that the former US president, who played a central role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland in the 1990s, has been called in to help.
He is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate at Dublin City University later today after which he will travel to Belfast to meet both sides.
Earlier this year, at the funeral for former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, Clinton spoke of the need for politicians to finish the work started by the former IRA commander who played a central role in agreeing the Good Friday Peace Agreement.
The Daily Mail says British and Irish governments, who are facilitating the talks, have expressed “cautious optimism” the power-sharing government can be restored this month but the parties have said there are still challenges to be addressed.
However, “in a blow to the British and Irish governments’ hopes that a deal to bring back Stormont is close”, the Belfast Telegraph says “significant areas of difference” still remain between the DUP and Sinn Fein, including the Irish Language Act and legacy issues.
Earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said a power-sharing deal by the end of the month was “eminently doable, but still requires that spirit of compromise”.
The end of October is seen a make-or-break deadline as the government in Westminster would be forced to intervene and set a budget for Stormont’s rudderless public services, effectively imposing direct rule.
The breakdown of the government has come at a critical time for Northern Ireland and the peace process.
Despite reassurances from Theresa May, the DUP and the EU that Brexit will not mean the return of a so-called hard border or controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic, there are fears that unless the UK remains within the EU customs union some form of barrier will be required. This would be in direct contravention of the terms set out in the Good Friday Agreement and could push an already fragile peace back over the edge.