Bush’s Northern Ireland intervention

Earlier today, former U.S. President George W. Bush called British conservative leader David Cameron to try to convince him to urge his allies in the Northern Irish Ulster Unionist party to support a deal that would give the government in Belfast control over police. As one source told the Guardian, "This is the most active ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images

Earlier today, former U.S. President George W. Bush called British conservative leader David Cameron to try to convince him to urge his allies in the Northern Irish Ulster Unionist party to support a deal that would give the government in Belfast control over police.

Earlier today, former U.S. President George W. Bush called British conservative leader David Cameron to try to convince him to urge his allies in the Northern Irish Ulster Unionist party to support a deal that would give the government in Belfast control over police.

As one source told the Guardian, "This is the most active thing George W Bush has done in his post-presidency period." Declan Kelly , the U.S. economic envoy to Northern Ireland aparrently asked Bush to make the call after the White House became increasingly concerned over Belfast’s inability to strike a deal. 

It might seem odd that Bush would choose break his radio silence on Northern Ireland, an issue on which his track record isn’t well known. But as the Guardian’s Henry Macdonald writes, his role in the peace process is more substantial than many realize: 

Nationalist Ireland has enjoyed a love affair with former US president Bill Clinton since the earliest days of the search for peace in Northern Ireland. His high profile post-ceasefire visits to Belfast were meant to set the seal on the process.

However, it was arguably his successor in the White House, George Bush, who drove the political process forward to the once unthinkable scenario of the Democratic Unionists sharing power with Sinn Féin.

The deal that led to power sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin was sealed at the St Andrews negotiations in 2006. Central to that deal was Sinn Féin agreeing to drop its historic opposition to the police in Northern Ireland – a key DUP precondition before entering government with the republican party.

The key figure in the Americans persuading the DUP and Sinn Féin to come together was Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss. Reiss, in the summer of 2006, won the confidence of the DUP by insisting Bush’s ban on Sinn Féin raising funds in North America would remain in place.

Bush’s intervention doesn’t seem to have had much effect. The Unionists are still opposed to the deal. But coming after Obama sent Bush, along with Bill Clinton, on a mission to Haiti in January, it does seem like something of an olive branch to the former president. It’s hard to imagine there are too many international constituencies that are looking forward to receiving a call from Bush — Ulster Unionists, Kosovar nationalists, the Georgian government — but there’s no reason not to enlist his services when they may be of help.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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