Tuesday 17 January 2017

Clinton nearly gave up on North over IRA bomb

John Spain Books Editor

Published 23/02/2010 | 05:00

FORMER US president Bill Clinton was close to abandoning his role in Northern Ireland's peace process after the IRA's surprise attack on Heathrow Airport. Photo: Getty Images
FORMER US president Bill Clinton was close to abandoning his role in Northern Ireland's peace process after the IRA's surprise attack on Heathrow Airport. Photo: Getty Images

FORMER US president Bill Clinton was close to abandoning his role in Northern Ireland's peace process after the IRA's surprise attack on Heathrow Airport.

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A new book by the editor of the 'Irish Voice' newspaper in New York, Niall O'Dowd, reveals for the first time that Mr Clinton was within hours of stepping away altogether from the peace process after an IRA attack.

The near-collapse came when the IRA launched the surprise attack at the London airport shortly after Gerry Adams had been allowed into the United States in March 1994.

Mr Adams had been given a visa by Mr Clinton, despite intense British opposition. The visa was a huge gesture of trust and Mr O'Dowd reveals that the president felt "utterly betrayed" after the mortar bomb attack.

The homemade mortars did not explode but left panic in their wake at the airport.

"I had a huge job to keep Clinton on board including a very tense meeting at the White House," Mr O'Dowd says.

Mr O'Dowd's biography, 'An Irish Voice', will be launched next Tuesday by Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

In it, Mr O'Dowd explains how he came up with a plan to involve the US in a major push to bring peace to the North and how he convinced Mr Clinton that it could work. It is the insider view of the US input into the process that was credited with the breakthrough.

Mr O'Dowd explains how he came up with the idea for US involvement and developed it with senior Irish Americans he had met after he started his newspaper for the Irish in New York.

He describes a secret meeting with Sinn Fein in Wynn's Hotel in Dublin where he put the idea forward.

The first step was his idea for a high-level Irish American delegation that would visit the North, a visit which would be marked by an IRA ceasefire to prove to the White House that the IRA was serious. Mr O'Dowd also describes how the plan resulted in success, despite numerous setbacks.

A younger brother of Fine Gael politician Fergus O'Dowd, Niall O'Dowd grew up in Drogheda, Co Louth, the son of a teacher. After attending University College Dublin, he went to the US in the 1970s.

Irish Independent

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