April 15, 1998
My husband was the first American President to travel to Northern Ireland
while in office. When he and I visited there in 1995, we saw firsthand
the depth of the Irish yearning for peace. At each stop, huge crowds
gathered to meet America's leader -- Catholics and Protestants speaking
in one voice -- urging him to help bring peace to their country.
Now, after 30 years of violence in which over 3,000 have died and from
which 30,000 more bear the physical scars, Northern Ireland's leaders
have repudiated their tragic history of hatred and violence and approved
a series of sweeping political changes that hold out the promise of
We in the United States can be proud of the role our country has played
in this historic moment. My husband, one of many Americans with Irish
ancestors, has worked for this day for over four years.
Irish Times correspondent Conor O'Clery acknowledges the President's
role: "An American President took office with Irish blood. ... He was
open to the argument ... that only the United States could form a bridge
... and nudge the peace process along when
It was only a few weeks ago, on St. Patrick's Day, that the President
took the opportunity to bring all of Northern Ireland's leaders to the
White House. Throughout the day, he met with them, driving home the point
that they faced one of the most important moments in their history -- an
opportunity for peace that might never come again in their lifetimes or
in the lifetimes of their children. That evening, as we welcomed 650
visitors to the reception, I watched as they huddled in conversation in
corners and over the buffet table.
Finally, last week, 22 months of negotiations ended with a marathon
session that kept Bill up much of the night making at least a dozen phone
calls to exhausted participants. When it was all over, he was able to
say: "After a 30-year winter of sectarian violence, Northern Ireland
today has the promise of a springtime of peace."
America and Northern Ireland were well-served throughout the process by
the capable leadership of the chairman of the talks, former U.S. Senate
Majority Leader George Mitchell. Over the past three and one-half years,
he has earned not only the respect but
also the trust of the participants on both sides.
History will remember the faith and courage of every participant in this
extraordinary process. Each took enormous personal and political risks
even to take part. They took these risks for the most unselfish of
reasons -- to offer the hope of peace to their children.
Critical to the success was Dr. Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam, British Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland. It was Mo Mowlam, suffering from the
effects of chemotherapy, who broke every taboo and precedent to keep the
parties engaged and the process moving toward completion.
Women have not traditionally played a role in Northern Ireland's
politics, but two, Monica McWilliams, a Catholic, and Pearl Sagar, a
Protestant, working together, won seats at the table and were key to
building support for the agreement.
Over the years, many women have suffered for the cause of peace. I
remember Joyce McCartan, whom I met in 1995, and I wish she had lived to
see this day. It was Joyce who talked about how sectarian politics won't
put food on the table. She said, "You can't fry flags in a frying pan."
Women such as Joyce share as much responsibility for the peace process as
anyone who sat at the table last week. They put aside the politics of
religion, ethnicity, race and history for the sake of their families. By
their resolve and example, they have helped bring a chance for peace to
We know that extremists on both sides will not fade quietly away. The
future of peace hinges on the results of voting May 22. It's up to the
people to choose peace. Nonetheless, we can expect that by words, and
even violent deeds, opponents may yet try to
undermine this agreement.
But, as my husband has made clear, the United States will stand by the
people who want peace. We will stand by the memory of those who have
died. We will stand by their families and their friends. We will stand by
those who, like Joyce McCartan, spent their lives fighting for peace. And
we will stand by their children.
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