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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Clinton hails huge step for Anglo-Irish history

Barry Duggan in Cork

A strong supporter of the peace process, former US President Bill Clinton, jetted into Ireland yesterday, as another key milestone was ready to be passed.

As Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness announced he would finally meet the queen, one of the chief architects of the peace process said the upcoming event would be a major milestone in Anglo-Irish history.

Speaking to the Irish Independent in Cork, Mr Clinton said a handshake between Mr McGuinness and the queen was "a very good thing and reinforces the peace process".

"I think it is a good thing for him. I think it is a good thing for her," he said.

"You know she (Queen Elizabeth) has become quite a big and important figure."

Mr Clinton said next week's meeting would be a major milestone in Anglo-Irish relations.

"I think so. It is what I hoped would happen when all this (the peace process) started -- that it would come around to that."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the upcoming meeting was "a follow-through from the normalisation of relations which the queen and the former president brought to a conclusion in Dublin Castle".

"Who would have thought a number of years ago that Her Majesty would lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in respect of those who rose and fought and died in rebellion against the British Empire over the centuries? We're in a different space now. We're looking forward," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Clinton spoke to 250 people at a gala dinner for the Worldwide Ireland Funds -- an international philanthropic network which has raised €342m for worthy causes across the country -- at Ballymaloe House last night.

The 42nd US President was the guest of honour at the black-tie affair where he met Nobel Prize winner and close friend Seamus Heaney.

Before greeting the world-famous poet, Mr Clinton stopped off in Waterstone's book store in Cork and bought one of his poetry books, along with an Irish history book for €40.

Mr Clinton arrived into Cork airport yesterday morning -- with the golf bags and security entourage in tow -- and made straight for Old Head Golf Links course in Kinsale for a round of golf.

With strong winds testing every drive, Mr Clinton and his three playing partners -- Dick Spring, John Fitzpatrick (of Fitzpatrick Hotels) and former Tipperary-born businessman and long time friend, Declan Kelly - played 15 of the 18 holes.

He admitted the challenge set from the Atlantic winds tested his game.

"I had a good time. I don't know if I had a good round," Mr Clinton said.

"It was glorious. I loved being there," he said.


Mr Clinton has a long-time involvement with the Worldwide Ireland Funds, which has set a €111m target to be raised by next year to support over 350 projects and organisations across the country.

Celebrating the Ireland Funds commitment to the arts and the 40th anniversary of its literary award, Seamus Heaney was honoured with a special lifetime award by the charitable organisation last night.

Mr Heaney said the fund did tremendous work. "There is hardly an institution in Ireland that has not benefited from it."

Irish Independent

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