I was very happy to be along with Hillary Clinton during her last visit to Ireland as Secretary of State, in December 2012. It was also on that the trip that I realized she was certain to run for president in 2016.
For that reason alone it was a trip to remember.
As she writes in her new book, “Hard Choices,” where she reserves several pages for her Irish work, the place still has a strong hold on her.
“My final trip as Secretary of State in December 2012 brought me again to Northern Ireland, a place where people have worked hard and suffered much to leave their past conflicts behind…
“At a luncheon in Belfast, happily surrounded by old friends and acquaintances, we reminisced about how far we’d come together.”
There was lots of reminiscing the day before in Dublin too when about 12 of us old-time Hillary supporters sat with her in a Dublin restaurant at a dinner hosted by businessman Denis O’Brien.
In the small private dinner setting just off Stephen’s Green in Dublin she made clear that the fire still burns. The affection for Ireland and the desire to serve again was very clear that night.
“She’s running,” said one of her longest-term supporters and friends that night “bet on it.”
She went around the table asking each of us for our memories from our Clinton campaign involvements.
I told her I remembered best that day in 1995 when she and her husband, as the president and first lady, came to Belfast for the Christmas tree lighting and to support the peace process. Northern Ireland was never the same afterwards.
When she spoke she remembered U.S. visa for Gerry Adams as the first major battle on Irish policy and how that was won. She remembered the many wonderful women in Northern Ireland who had inspired her, and how she has used the message of Northern Ireland to different groups learning to live together many times since in her job as Secretary of State.
At the American Ireland Fund event in Belfast the following day she made an astonishing offer to the group, essentially saying, put me to work on your behalf and on behalf of Ireland. It was a massive gesture and one that showed the depth of her commitment to Ireland.
How she became so involved is clear in her new book.
“When Bill was first elected president, the Troubles in Northern Ireland had been raging for decades.
“In 1995, Bill appointed former Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. Bill became the first U.S. President to visit Northern Ireland when he and I traveled to Belfast later that year, and turned on the lights of Belfast’s Christmas tree in front of a vast crowd.
“I returned to Northern Ireland nearly every year for the rest of the decade and stayed actively involved as a Senator in the years that followed. In 1998 I helped organize the Vital Voices Conference of women in Belfast who were pressing for a peace agreement. Their whispers of “Enough!” had become a rallying cry that could no longer be ignored.”
She never did ignore the Irish issue and helped bring about the peace there. It should be one of her proudest legacies.