THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JIM LYONS, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT AND THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ECONOMIC INITIATIVES FOR IRELAND
The Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EDT
MR. LYONS: Good afternoon. I'm Jim Lyons. I'm the special adviser to the President and the Secretary of State for economic initiatives in the north of Ireland. As you know, this afternoon the President has announced a series of economic initiatives which are part of the continuing commitment of the administration to peace and prosperity in the north of Ireland. The most immediate of those relates to the Springvale Campus, which I'd be happy to talk about if you'd like.
In addition to that, there are a number of initiatives that are already underway, both through the State Department and the Department of Commerce, which we expect to continue. As you also know, unfortunately the President will not be visiting Ireland at least before the referendum. That does not foreclose, however, a visit sometime later in the year.
Q Do you have any date for Hillary's visit?
MR. LYONS: No, we don't. She's going to come in the fall -- we do not have a date yet -- to conduct a Women and Vital Voices conference, which is similar to one she has already done in Vienna last year and one which she was enjoying in South America this year as well. She was very eager and anxious to do that, and we're delighted that she would take the time to be able to conduct that conference. We hope it can be done sooner rather than later.
Q On the Springvale Campus, the five million that will be required is supposed to make the expansion happen, will that come from existing IFI allocations, or will that be an extra five million you hope to secure?
MR. LYONS: Well, I don't know exactly the precise answer to that yet. We feel confident that between and among those sources we can find that amount of money to complete what we understand to be the deficit and will allow the project to go forward. As you know, the IFI made the initial seed contribution, if you will, of five million pounds four years ago, which has now been used to get the project jump-started, if you will.
Q There is an agency report today that the President may propose a budget of $75 million over two years for the international fund. Would you like to comment on that? Or is he likely to do that?
MR. LYONS: I don't know anything about that.
Q Is there likely, in any case, to be an increase asked for over the next few years, in view of the peace process, in the international fund budget?
MR. LYONS: Well, as you know, our system is such that the administration can submit a request, but the final appropriation decision is made by the Congress. We have been fortunate in the last several years to have good support and receptivity in the Congress from both Democrats and Republicans. It's certainly something we'd be most eager to sit down and discuss with them, but it is not a decision the administration can make by itself.
Q I'm sorry, just to follow this. You have said that the administration could make the suggestion. Is the administration going to do that?
MR. LYONS: It's under evaluation; I do know that. But we're now still in the sort of throes of the current budget cycle, and I don't think the administration has yet sat down and focused on the next budget cycle, of which this would obviously be a part.
Q Where does the IFI funding stand today?
MR. LYONS: The administration has requested $19.6 million, and the request is pending before the Congress for fiscal year 1999, which for us would begin in September of this year.
Q Have you heard anything that it may be lighter than that, the initial proposal --
MR. LYONS: No, I haven't. No I have not. I have heard largely favorable and receptive comments from both sides, and we've provided as much information about the IFI and its work as we can to this point.
Q With the Irish economy in the south doing so well, will it get harder and harder to make the case that the American government should put forward some of its foreign aid when you've got the Celtic tiger roaring to the south?
MR. LYONS: Well, keep in mind that the money that goes through the IFI to the north of Ireland goes to the six counties of Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic. By treaty we are required -- the IFI, that is -- to spend 75 percent of that in that area, and virtually all of the jobs, the money, the economic impact that the IFI has had so far since 1986 has been concentrated in that area, which is, as you know, not part of the Republic of Ireland.
What the Republic of Ireland chooses to do to continue to support the work of the IFI is obviously up to them, but they have been very supportive and I don't have any reason to believe that their support will be any less for the work of the fund, particularly during what is an obviously critical period for us.
Q As of today, do you know what the status of the possibility of the Taoiseach going and joining Prime Minister Blair and President Clinton when they meet next week?
MR. LYONS: No, I'm sorry, I don't.
Q In terms of the half a million dollars that they're working towards for helping the Assembly after the elections, can you tell us any more about that? It says, helping to build new institutions created by the April 10th accord.
MR. LYONS: Well, to a large extent that will be money and resources that will be provided as requested. It certainly is available. It is a mechanism within the government, our government, that we have used and offered in other reconstructing democracies, if you will, and it's difficult to say precisely how that would be used since we're not even past the referendum, let alone elections yet.
But we wanted to make it clear that we were certainly able and willing to provide as much support in that specific area as we can. We think we've got some reasonable experience around the world that may very well be profitable to Northern Ireland as it, as I say, reconstructs these governmental apparatuses.
Q As I understand, in other similar examples where the U.S. has been involved, they have taken members of assemblies and deputies to the United States to provide them with some orientation. Is that a possibility, do you think, for new assembly members in Northern Ireland?
MR. LYONS: I would think it would be possible, if that would be -- again, as I say, what would be the most meaningful and what would be requested, certainly we would be in a position to offer that, I should think.
Q Mr. Blair today has announced additional money to help victims of violence in Northern Ireland. And the President, of course, met some victims here today, I think. Is there any possibility of the U.S. administration contributing to this fund for the victims?
MR. LYONS: I don't know. I'm not familiar with the specifics of the fund. I'd have to see it, and I haven't. This is the first I've heard of it.
Q It couldn't, I presume, come under the IFI. It wouldn't be part of its --
MR. LYONS: Well, as you know, the IFI has some pretty well-defined and discrete programs, and while I can't think of one necessarily that this would readily fit in, and that's not to say that it couldn't be examined by the IFI's -- as far as I know, we've not been asked to look at it. It's a relatively new fund and a new idea, obviously with a worthy purpose. If we can help, I'm sure we'd like to find a way to do that.
Q As you know, George Mitchell had your role before he went on to chair the talks. Do you ever see yourself -- your role in Northern Ireland evolving as they got to a new place in the peace process to take on more than just economic initiatives?
MR. LYONS: No. (Laughter.)
Q Could you elaborate?
MR. LYONS: I've got my hands full right now, thank you.
Q The West Belfast, Springvale campus, and the $5 million dollars -- what's that about?
MR. LYONS: The complex itself is a 70 million pound complex to be built in a series of phases, as you may or may not know, on the Springvale site, which is an abandoned industrial site just adjacent to the Mackey's (phonetic) facility, if you know west Belfast. The site, first of all, needs to be made environmentally suitable for construction and use -- cleaned up, if you will. And then the concept is to build this campus, including in its very early phases a community outreach center, over a period of years. The last numbers I saw I think were that it was a six- or seven-year build-out period. So it's a 70 million pound commitment over that period of time.
The British government has in its current budget been able to allocate an commit about 40 million of that -- as we understand it. The university itself -- the University of Ulster -- is prepared to undertake the fundraising necessary and commit its own resources to make up another 20 of that. That leaves a deficit of about 10 that we're trying to help bridge with this additional commitment.
When the idea for this campus was first advanced to us at the IFI four years ago, we saw its immediate impact and benefit, and pledged initially five million pounds toward the construct of the facility. That five million pounds probably is included in that first 40 I described.
Q So it would be an annex of the University of Ulster?
MR. LYONS: Yes.
Q As you see it, how do you think things are going as we head toward the referendum?
MR. LYONS: Well, I was there week before last; I thought they were going reasonably well. I mean, I am anxious, as we all are, that the people who are going to vote have all the facts and make the best decision that they can. It certainly appears to me that they do.
Q Have you briefed the President on the status of the referendum and the situation on the ground there?
MR. LYONS: Well, there's a variety of people who give him information, and as you probably know, he is always anxious for more information. So I'm happy to share that with him when he asks.
Q Did you see him today?
MR. LYONS: I did.
Q How long did you talk?
MR. LYONS: Well, we talked for a bit.
Q Did he have any interesting questions, or is it just an update on where things stand?
MR. LYONS: Well, it largely was a private conversation, as I hope you can understand. But he is optimistic, we are optimistic, we are very hopeful that we can get to the next step in this process and do whatever we can, again, to support and promote as much peace and prosperity as the United States can in a foreign country.
Q Do you think the fact that the President isn't going to go before the referendum -- will that in fact have an adverse affect on the voting numbers in the referendum?
MR. LYONS: Oh, I shouldn't think so. I mean, I would hope not.
Q But I mean, the point of him going was to scare up the vote, wasn't it?
MR. LYONS: It certainly doesn't indicate any lack of interest on his part; I can assure you of that.
Q But the idea of going was to increase the support for the agreement. Now he's not able to go, so the support that he might have been able to garner, now he won't be able to do so.
MR. LYONS: Well, I think that's probably right. I mean, to the extent that having the President personally on the ground would provide an additional impetus, that impetus will not now be available. That's certainly not to say that he has any less interest in it. It is a question of political judgments and a question of timing and scheduling, like it is everywhere else.
And if I have anything to do with it, I'd like to take him tomorrow. But we can't probably do it that way. I'm very confident and hopeful he'll be there before the year is out.
Q To the cynic who might say, well, because of timing there needs to be --
MR. LYONS: There are cynics in Ireland? I'm astounded. (Laughter.)
Q Begrudgers, as well. But to those who might say this is merely a semblance of action, needs to be done by the White House, and they're putting together initiatives that are not really that new, what would you say?
MR. LYONS: I would say this administration and this Congress has put its money where its mouth is. Since 1993, we have put over $100 million into the International Fund for Ireland. What is announced today is a continuation of that level of commitment and that level of interest on the part of the United States toward peace and prosperity in Ireland. That's what I'd say.
Q Thank you.
MR. LYONS: Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EDT