Posted by Niall O'Dowd at 7/23/2009 8:31 AM EDT
The news that Hillary Clinton will be the special envoy to Northern Ireland in the Obama administration is very good news for Ireland.
Anytime the most powerful foreign policy official in the United States decides that a small country like Ireland will be one of her priorities it is a great development.
Hillary of course is more than just another Secretary of State. She is also perhaps the most famous woman in the world and her focus on Ireland will bring much needed attention to bear on the island, north and south. Let's face it Ireland needs it
At a time when the reputation of Ireland worldwide has slumped because of the death of the Celtic Tiger, the peace process in Northern Ireland remains a shining light and the greatest example of what the Irish north and south can achieve.
There is an entire industry these days in studying the successful peace process. It has become an example to the world of what can be achieved if the will and the focus is there. Recently I have seen it cited as an example of what could work in disputed Kashmir and the Middle East where George Mitchell a hero of the Irish process is leading the American efforts to find a solution.
It is even being used in Iraq where a power sharing government between Sunnis and Shiites has much to learn from the Northern Ireland experience.
Everyone wants to be associated with a success story and Hillary is no exception. She has maintained links with Northern Ireland and used her work there heavily during her run for president. Indeed, she was heavily criticised by many, including Obama at the time, who claimed she had exaggerated her role.
It became quite a story during the campaign and the Washington Post among others featured an extensive review of what Hillary did and did not do during her six trips to the North as First Lady. Fox News and other right wing shows ranted that Hillary was once again,being liberal with the truth.
My memory of Hillary in the North at the time is very clear. I was on three of those trips with her She focused on women's groups there and did an amazing job bringing leaders from both sides together in her Vital Voices conferences.
The facts were that until Hillary showed up and focused on women none of the groups in the North had tried to work that angle, yet it was a vital one, especially in communities where paramilitaries held sway.
I saw the faces of those community women when they met with Hillary. Here was one of the most powerful women in the world taking time to listen and share their concerns.
She empowered them and gave them a role in the search for a solution to the conflict.They,after all, were the mothers and sisters who saw their sons and brothers dying in the conflict or serving long term jail sentences. Hillary awoke a sleeping giant when she put the two sides together and they realized they had much in common.
Now she will resume a role in Northern Ireland, this time as Secretary of State.That can only be good news for all. No American first family in history has done more for Ireland than the Clintons.
Long may it continue.
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