EU rules nearly blocked arrival of Clinton Christmas tree to Belfast

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  • Bill Clinton
    Bill Clinton
    42nd president of the United States

The historic visit of Bill Clinton to Northern Ireland in 1995 was nearly overshadowed by EU red tape, new documents reveal.

A communique between Irish officials in the days leading up to visit of the US president reveals that EU rules on plant health threatened to prevent the gifting of a 60ft Christmas tree to Belfast from sister city Nashville.

That tree, beside which Mr Clinton delivered a speech to the people of Belfast, became one of the key symbols of US commitment to a peace settlement in the region.

Yet it nearly did not arrive in the Northern Ireland.

An official in the Anglo-Irish Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs warned a colleague in Washington: “You may be aware that there is a problem with the proposed importation of the Belfast Christmas tree – a 60 foot high Tennessee white pine.”

She goes on: “EU plant health regulations prohibit the importation of such tree, due to the risk of importing the white pine nematode (a pest).”

The Irish official suggests that talks are ongoing between with the Northern Ireland Office and the European Union in a bid to bypass the issue.

“The Forestry Service in N.I has no problems with the derogations and the US are ready to certify that the tree is disease free.”

The official warns: “A main concern will be to ensure that the Canadians, who are currently in a trade dispute over timber products with the EU (especially the Nordic countries) , do not use this episode to open up the trade issue.”

While the correspondence ends there, the issue appears to have been resolved.

During his visit in 1995, Mr Clinton was able to tell the people of Belfast: “Today, of course, we are forging new and special bonds. Belfast’s sister city in the United States, Nashville, Tennessee, was proud to send this Christmas tree to friends across the Atlantic.”

The material can be found in the National Archives with file number 2021/49/103.

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