Following the announcement by the US Ireland Alliance that the former US president had withdrawn from the event next month because of changes to his schedule, Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley Junior claimed it was recognition by him that the accord was flawed.
“The decision by Bill Clinton not to attend any celebrations on the Belfast Agreement is a vote of no confidence in the failed Belfast Agreement,” the North Antrim MLA argued.
“If the agreement was the pinnacle of his foreign policy success — as stated by some overblown commentators — Bill Clinton would already be here basking in the collective glow and indeed his wife would be with him, benefiting from the political advantage offered during a presidential campaign that appears to be feeling the pinch.
“His decision to put other domestic matters first shows two things — firstly that the presidential campaign by his wife requires his support and priority at home, not abroad, and secondly that he recognises that the agreement was not the final solution, but was in fact flawed and required the major changes negotiated by the DUP at St Andrews some years later.
“I welcome his decision to play down the celebrations. It is a reality check and a signal that the agreement, far from solving Ulster’s crisis, had to ultimately be solved itself.”
The US Ireland Alliance’s event on April 10 will have contributions from participants in the Good Friday Agreement talks, including Senator George Mitchell, who chaired them, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy.
Other speakers will include Nobel Peace Prize laureate John Hume, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey, nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Progressive Unionist leader Dawn Purvis, Northern Ireland’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner Monica McWilliams, Independent Monitoring Commission member John Alderdice, former Foreign Minister David Andrews, former junior minister Liz O’Donnell and loyalist Davy Adams.
With Mr Clinton heavily involved in his wife Hillary’s bid for the White House, there was speculation yesterday that her campaign had taken precedence.
The conference will take place just 12 days ahead of the vital Democratic primary in Pennsylvania — a state Ms Clinton must win in her contest with Barack Obama for her party’s presidential nomination. It is understood Mr Clinton cited changes to schedule as his reason for pulling out.
Ten years ago, the Democratic Unionists stayed out of negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement but had a central role in the forging, eight years later, of the St Andrews Agreement in Scotland which led to the formation of the current power-sharing executive at Stormont.
DUP members claim the St Andrews Agreement superseded the Good Friday Agreement.
However, this has been dismissed by SDLP leader Mark Durkan.
“Those kind of comments are a cross between a fig leaf and a figment of DUP imaginations,” the Foyle MP claimed.
“The St Andrews Agreement was the sugar for the medicine provided by the Good Friday Agreement.
“Sure there were changes in St Andrews but rather than change the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement, what we have seen is the DUP and Sinn Féin alter some of the fittings and fixtures — changes the DUP may well end up regretting.”
Mr Durkan added: “The Good Friday Agreement has stood the test of time.
“At the time we said it provided for partnership and cooperation, not just between nationalist and unionist, but for those who voted ‘yes’ in the referendum and those who voted ‘no’, and that is how things have turned out.”