October 2nd 09
At the Clinton Global Initiative
I was in New York last week for the first two days of the 5th annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative. The CGI was held, as usual in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on 7th Avenue. As regular readers will know I spend a lot of my life in one hotel or another but the Sheraton is one I have grown quite familiar with. It also has an early link with the Clinton Presidency and the Irish peace process.
In January 1994, and after torturous negotiations, President Clinton gave me a 48 hour visa to visit New York to participate in a conference on Ireland being organised by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. There was uproar from the British. Their hysterical handling of the issue guaranteed that my visit made the headlines everywhere!
For my part I wanted to ensure in the limited time available to me that I had an opportunity to meet Irish America. An event, sponsored by ‘Americans for a New Irish Agenda’, was held in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. It was my first public meeting with Irish America and it was packed with an enthusiastic and excited capacity crowd.
Since then the annual New York Friends of Sinn Féin fund raisers have been held in the Sheraton each autumn. So I have become very familiar with the twists and turns and nooks and crannies of this large establishment.
President Bill Clinton established the CGI in 2005. But to make it more than another conference talking shop its primary focus is to ‘turn ideas into action’.
The conferences are action orientated. Every session concludes with action proposals aimed at bringing together NGOs, senior figures in the business sector, political leaders and government officials, and those concerned at the many problems facing the people of the world today. Sometimes the amounts of money involved are colossal, sometimes they are very small or are commitments of time and energy.
This year the CGI concentrated on four main areas of concern; Financing an Equitable Future; Building Human Capital; Strengthening Infrastructure and Harnessing Innovation for Development. I was especially impressed by the sessions that were held on empowering women and girls.
At its close on Friday President Clinton was able to announce that the CGI had secured another 284 commitments with a value of $9.4 billion. This brings the total value of the commitments generated by the CGI since 2005 to $57 billion.
The affect of all of this is expected to result in:
• 30 million children will gain access to education.
• 2 million girls will be reached through school enrollment efforts.
• 7 million people will be reached with clean energy.
• 83 million people will have increased access to health services.
• 4.7 million children will benefit from malnutrition interventions.
• 18 million people will have increased access to safe drinking water.
Because of the Lisbon Referendum campaign I had initially thought that participating this year would be impractical but after some discussion with colleagues it was agreed that I would spend two days at the conference.
I find the conferences personally very educational. There is a huge amount of information provided, as well as an opportunity to meet a wide range of people.
In hindsight it was fortunate that we decided that I should go because it allowed me an opportunity to meet President Clinton and brief him on the current situation in the political institutions and the failures of the British and Irish government in implementing their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.
It also allowed me to be present at the special session President Clinton organised involving Peter Robinson, the First Minister, Martin McGuinness the deputy First Minister, Declan Kelly the newly appointed US Economic Envoy to Ireland; Míchael Martin the Irish Government’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Shaun Woodward the British Secretary of State.
The focus on the session, which was packed, was the need for economic investment to underpin the progress that has been made and to ensure that those who have been worst affected by decades of inequality and conflict feel the benefits of peace.
It was a good meeting. An optimistic meeting. However, and Peter Robinson is bound to know this, there will be no significant or substantial inward investment in the absence of stable, efficient political institutions which are delivering on their remit.
So, the delay in the transfer of powers on policing and justice cannot go on indefinitely.