FORMER US president Bill Clinton has outlined an imaginative economic strategy to lift the North from its economic woes.
While the statesman, 64, acknowledged the financial situation in the region was not good, he said he would far rather wrestle with those problems than the bloodshed and violence of the Troubles.
Delivering an address at the University of Ulster in Derry, Mr Clinton pointed to sectors that he believed could drive the region’s economic recovery, including fish farming, arts and crafts and tourism.
He also stressed the importance of moving toward sustainable energy sources and attracting more foreign investors to set up roots in the area.
“I realise that to many people it is not as emotionally satisfying to discuss this as to talk about the peace in 1995,” he said on his sixth trip to the region.
“This is what the peace is about – about giving the people the chance to live responsible normal lives.
“This is also part of living a peaceful life, facing the tough times, facing the crisis and facing it together.”
Mr Clinton’s speech at the university comes ahead of a US-Northern Ireland economic conference in Washington next month hosted by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Mr Clinton started his day with a private meeting with long-time friend and former SDLP leader John Hume and his wife Pat.
Upon arriving at the campus, the former president said he was pleased the crowd waiting for him was modest compared with the thousands who welcomed him in the 1990s, explaining it meant peace had been secured.
Mr Clinton, who travels to Dublin today for the second day of his 48-hour visit to the island, also reflected on his experience in the peace process.
“All of you I have been privileged to know for the last 15 years or more know that working on the Irish peace process was one of the two or three great honours of my life,” he said.
“I thank all of you for proving a thesis possible. Whenever people say we can’t do it in the Middle East, we can’t do it somewhere, we just draw Northern Ireland to them.”
Speaking during his visit Sinn Féin MP and Derry native Martin McGuinness assured the former President that the ongoing threat from dissident republican groups would not destabilise the region.
“We are facing up to huge challenges and the media are sometimes fixated by some of these tiny unrepresentative armed groups that are out there,” he said.
“They actually don’t represent the biggest challenge to us because we are united and we intend to stay united. The biggest challenge to us in the time ahead is the economic challenge, that’s the biggest challenge and President Clinton is prepared to assist us in that.”
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