Hillary Clinton used her induction into the Irish America Hall of Fame on Monday as an opportunity to try and change the subject from the former secretary of state’s email account to the role of women in promoting peace around the world.
Clinton gave an impassioned speech Monday in New York about her role in the 1990s Irish Peace Process, highlighting the importance of women in efforts stop fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server – a story that has shrouded the former secretary of state for the last two weeks – went unmentioned at the jovial event where guests toasted with pints of Guinness.
Clinton sat at the event’s head table along with John Fitzpatrick, founder of Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, and Gerry Adams, president of Ireland’s Sinn Féin political party.
Women “contributed to the demand for the end to violence. They simply would not take no for answer,” Clinton said of the Good Friday Agreement that started to end The Troubles between Catholics and Protestants. “I have seen this in many places around the country where women move from being victims to agents of change. But I have never seen it more clearly, most resolutely, than I saw in Northern Ireland.”
As president, Bill Clinton spearheaded efforts to end religious divisions that claimed thousands of Irish lives in the 1990s. Then-first lady Hillary Clinton helped in the peace process, primarily by bringing women together and making them part of the peace accords.
In a historic moment, both Clintons stood in Belfast on Nov. 30, 1995 to light the city’s Christmas tree. The moment was symbolic in the Irish peace process and capped off a trip that many Irish Americans remember as the highlight of Clintons presidency.
Hillary Clinton said Monday that lessons from the peace process still guide her today.
“There is still work to be done, but that remains a crucial lesson,” Clinton said. “You cannot bring peace and security to people just by signing an agreement. In fact, most peace agreements don’t last.”
Some have questioned how big a role Clinton actually played in bringing peace to Ireland. The Washington Post Fact Checker wrote in 2008 that Clinton “seems to be overstating her significance as a catalyst in the Northern Ireland peace process, which was more symbolic than substantive,” but that she did play “a helpful role at the margins.”
Clinton is notably not Irish – her family is of English, Scottish, French, and Welsh descent – but she was inducted into the Hall of Fame because of her role in the peace process.
With her induction, Clinton joins an interesting mix of Irish America Hall of Fame members. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly were both induced in 2014, along with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a possible 2016 Democrat who may challenge Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden, who is also considering a 2016 run, was inducted in 2013 and Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, was inducted in 2011.
“You certainly kept your word,” said Heather Humphrey, Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, about the peace process. “Thank you for standing with us when peace was not the inevitable outcome.”
Clinton – who is expected to announce a presidential bid within weeks – said she accepted the “singular honor which I could not attain by birth” on “behalf of all the remarkable women that I met and admired in Northern Ireland.”
Niall O’Dowd, the Irish America co-founder, introduced Clinton as someone who made peace happen for Northern Irish women. He also nodded to her 2016 aspirations when he welcome Clinton and her “potential Ambassadors to Ireland, all 16 of you.”
O’Dowd is a longtime Democratic donor and was a member of her 2008 campaign finance team. Since Clinton first ran for office in 2000, O’Dowd has been a regularly backed for campaigns, including maxing out individual donations in 2007 and 2008, according to FEC reports.