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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 17:59 GMT
Trimble comments annoy Clintons
Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
Politics Show

Hillary Clinton was a cheerleader, not a star player when it comes to the game of peace in Northern Ireland. So says David Trimble.

"I don't know there was much she did apart from accompanying Bill going around... I don't want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player," he told the Daily Telegraph last week.

It's an arresting image - Hillary Clinton in ra-ra skirt with pom poms: two, four, six, eight, who does Hill appreciate?

Hillary Clinton
David Trimble said Hillary Clinton was not a main player in the peace process

Not David Trimble. His barbed comments forced the presidential hopeful to post a glowing testimonial from Mr Trimble's fellow Nobel Laureate John Hume.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, in the midst of a hard-fought selection process for the Democratic candidate for president, such assessments have impact.

Not because Ireland is an issue for Democrats, but because Mrs Clinton's experience is.

Not only do Mr Trimble's comments call into question the nature of her role a decade ago, but by suggesting that she's exaggerating it is also an attack on her honesty today.

While Mr Trimble says he doesn't want to rain on Hillary's parade - win or lose, she's unlikely to forgive.

For even at the very top of the game, politics remains a very personal kind of business.

Bill Clinton was frosty to John Major when he became president because during his election campaign the Conservatives had rifled through MI5 files on behalf of his Republican opponents looking for dirt on Bill while he had been a student at Oxford.

When Clinton granted Gerry Adams a visa, Major returned the favour by refusing to take the US president's calls.

This latest spat is not the first time David Trimble has criticised a Clinton.

He accused Bill Clinton of having a "sentimental attachment to Irish republicanism" and implied that President Bush would be firmer on the issues of democracy and terrorism.

In his memoirs Bill Clinton describes Trimble as "dour".

When I interviewed the former president for The Politics Show I asked him about his relationship with the then Ulster Unionist leader.

"I did not have poor relations with that man, David Trimble," he said - or something like that - as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, crossing his legs and pulling his left ear.

If we'd been playing poker I'd have bet the pot.

After the formal interview, he lingered to chat about the state of the peace process.

It was July 2004 and the DUP was now the bigger of the two unionist parties following the 2003 assembly elections - and the Westminster rout was to follow a year later.

Mr Clinton was interested in David Trimble's recent criticism of him and made a few comments to the effect that if Bush was so good for Trimble, why was Trimble now leading the smaller of the two unionist parties.

As he left the room he leaned his head into the doorway and with a mischievous smile shouted back in that thick southern drawl: "And you tell old Trimble that I still like him." It seems the feeling is mutual.

On the Politics Show this week we assess the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement 10 years on.

David Trimble
Mr Trimble has tangled with the Clintons before

On Palm Sunday, we're in the ecclesiastical capital of Armagh and will be joined by Brid Rodgers, Arlene Foster, Conor Murphy and Danny Kennedy.

And thanks for all your comments last week.


PS - We made it to air on Monday with Stormont Live after the Assembly Commission held an emergency meeting to modify their draconian new rules for media.

In response to Sinn Fein's Mairead Farrell commemoration event they had inadvertently banned all coverage from the chamber.

Sweeping restrictions still apply, however.

Last Monday, First Minister Ian Paisley hosted Commonwealth representatives on Commonwealth Day in Parliament Buildings.

At such an important event the Big Man was somewhat surprised at the lack of media attention.

"Where's all the cameras," he demanded only to be told by a sheepish advisor that thanks to his party's representative on the Assembly Commission it would now be illegal to have his event filmed.


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