Clinton worried McGuinness and Adams couldn’t avoid IRA split

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Former United States President, Bill Clinton, and erstwhile Prime Minister, Tony Blair, were worried Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams would be unable to avoid a split in the IRA in their efforts to secure the decommissioning of its arsenal of guns and explosives.

They also expressed concern over the psychological readiness or otherwise of IRA members for life during peacetime and frustration over continuing sporadic IRA violence during the stuttering peace process.

Bizarrely, film director Steven Spielberg was also revealed to have been at Chequers with Mr Blair when Mr Clinton phoned to congratulate him on the second IRA ceasefire of 1997.

All this has been revealed with the release of a series of transcripts of telephone conversations and minutes of meetings between the pair, dating from the years 1997 to 2000, when they were both heavily involved in the peace process.

In a conversation on April 19, 2000, Mr Clinton said: “I know you offered to meet with the IRA and they said no. My only other suggestion is whether you or someone on your behalf could open a channel of communication with others in Sinn Féin/IRA besides. In a way, at some point, it gets hard for the leadership to make a case, and I have the feeling that the rank and file read the newspapers and are sophisticated on one level but in the absence of personally engaging with someone who can explain what’s going on out there, it’s pretty tough.

“I know I have told you before, I think a lot of these guys can’t imagine how their lives are going to be different if this thing works out. I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t know if I can help you, but that’s the only suggestion I have.

“It’s a pretty narrow funnel you’re pouring all this in, and Gerry and Martin have a heavy load.

“Some may think, well, Martin is the Minister of Education and Martin has a nice life, what’s in it for us? Maybe there’s nothing to this, but I think you should keep thinking about this.”

Mr Clinton said he felt the various peacemakers risked provoking a dangerous split in the republican movement.

“I now believe Gerry and Martin want this to work. But, if they brought it to a vote and jammed the vote and caused half of them to bolt to some other faction - we don’t want that. It’s worth some leakage, but not much.

“It’s easy for me to say this, because I don’t have to deal with the aftermath of the bombs, but you would be right back in the soup,” he said.

In an earlier conversation in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, Mr Clinton was told by Mr Blair that there were only 15 hardcore IRA operators opposed to the peace process and that they were supported by a further 90 people.

Mr Clinton worried, however, that former IRA members would not be able to psychologically adjust to the peace.

“My worry is for all these IRA offshoots, isolated cells who were kept apart and were kept isolated from centralized control, that psychologically they may not be able to handle it. If what their real prospect is that they could lay down their arms and not go to jail and take low-paying jobs

instead of terrorism, a lot of them may not be able to psychologically handle going to work everyday and carrying a lunchbox,” he said.

During the same conversation, Mr Clinton also said he had worried anti-peace process elements would have killed Gerry Adams or David Trimble.

“You ought to have a really smart person think about the psychological and economic dynamics about how they would spend their days, and do a concerted effort on persuading them how else they could spend their days.

“It may be B.S., but I think it’s part of the problem and is worth thinking about. You’ve got a lot of brilliant people over there that could figure out a psychological campaign to deal with them specifically.

“You don’t have much to lose and you might have some benefit from it. I will do these things you asked. I’m really sorry, Tony. I’m so sorry this happened. You know, I was afraid this would happen before the vote. I was afraid they might try to kill Gerry or David.”

And earlier still, following the declaration of an IRA ceasefire in 1997, Steven Spielberg, was apparently with Mr Blair, when Mr Clinton phoned with his congratulations.

“I am sitting here outside Chequers having a cup of tea with a friend of yours, Steven Spielberg,” said Mr Blair.

Mr Clinton replied: “Steven Spielberg? You are? You tell Mr Spielberg that you may be drinking tea with him, but I am here on the beach in Santa Monica having coffee with Ron Burkle [a businessman] which shows California has more influence than either the British or the US Government.”