Hillary Clinton is inspiring a rising generation of young Irish leaders.
As First Lady, Hillary Clinton had already gone to Ireland and Northern Ireland on two occasions with her husband and to support women in Northern Ireland who were committed to sustaining the peace process.
That year, she took the extra step of inviting Irish interns from the Washington Ireland Program to work in the White House. Between 1998 and 2000 five WIP interns had the unique experience of working for President Clinton and the First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Getting past the objections of some officials to foreign interns in the White House was one the first hurdles that had to be overcome. According to Kris Balderston, a Special Assistant to the President and later the Secretary to the President’s Cabinet, Bill Clinton had to personally sign-off on an Irish intern working for the staff of the National Security Council one summer.
Carol Wheeler, the founder of WIP, said, “A White House internship is a prize and typically out of reach for anyone who's not a US citizen. We were amazed, and absolutely delighted, when we were able to give WIP students the opportunity of working both in the First Lady's office and in the office of the Cabinet Secretary. It was yet another indication of the administration's commitment to the peace process – and to Hillary's personal investment in helping in any way she could.”
When Clinton won her race for the U.S. Senate in 2000 from the state of New York, she made a point of once again recruiting Irish interns. So it was that over the course of a decade, eleven Irish university students had the unique opportunity of working in the White House and then in the U.S. Senate for Hillary Clinton.
And over the course of 20 years, over 500 future leaders from Ireland and Northern Ireland have come to Washington D.C. and worked for U.S. Senators and Representatives committed to supporting the Irish peace process. Many members of the Senate, including Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, John McCain, Chuck Schumer – even Barack Obama – as well as Tom Harkin, Peter King, Joe Crowley and Jim Walsh in the House took on Irish interns every summer, often giving them their first real taste of politics.
The unstinting support that Hillary Clinton and so many other members of the U.S. Congress have given to the work of the Washington Ireland Program has helped to create a rising generation of young Irish leaders in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
These young leaders, now over 500 strong, include the youngest Minister in the Irish cabinet, Leo Varadkar T.D., and two sitting members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Chris Lyttle MLA and Claire Sugeden MLA. Eight alumni of the WIP program were also recently elected to local councilor seats in Ireland and Northern Ireland, including two to the Dublin City Council and one to the Belfast City Council.
As Clinton herself has said, “WIP alumni are now emerging as a new generation of leaders committed to peace, stability and prosperity in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
These are just a few of their inspiring stories.
In 2003, Sharon Haughey traveled from Northern Ireland to work as a Senate intern to then-Senator Hillary Clinton. Her history with the Clintons went back much farther, however, to 1995, when at the age of 14 she wrote a letter to then-President Bill Clinton expressing her hopes for a peaceful Northern Ireland.
On November 30, 1995, when the president made his historic speech in Belfast, he quoted Haughey’s letter. Three years later, Haughey was asked to introduce President Clinton before a speech in Armagh.
Working in Senator Clinton’s office in 2003, Haughey gained the experience she needed to launch her own political career once home in Northern Ireland, joining the SDLP and getting elected to the Armagh City and District Council in 2005. In 2012, she was elected the first Lord Mayor of Armagh.
“Working with Hillary Clinton was the dream job,” Haughey has said. “For me, a young woman starting out in politics, I had so much to learn and who better to learn from than Hillary. My time in her Senate office cemented my desire and determination to get more involved in politics back home in Northern Ireland. Watching Hillary work so hard for her constituents was inspiring. She was, and still is, a powerful role model for women in politics.”