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The BBC's Nicholas Witchell
"Senator Hillary Clinton promised to continue working for peace"
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First Lady and senator elect Hillary Clinton
It takes no effort to pick up an automatic weapon compared to building a better future.
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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 13:49 GMT
Women know 'there's no going back'
Senator-elect Hillary Clinton
Senator-elect Hillary Clinton: Visit is bittersweet
US First Lady and senator elect Hillary Clinton has said there would always be people who wanted a return to violence in preference to working for peace.

Speaking at a conference at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, Mrs Clinton said women in Northern Ireland were best placed to know the danger of a return to violence.

She said a great deal of progress had been made in achieving peace since the first visit by the Clinton family in 1995.

"I know that building peace anywhere is never easy and there are always people who are the self appointed doom sayers.

"They would rather throw up their hands than roll up their sleeves."

This is one of those special moments when we have the chance to defy generations of hatred - a kind of moment that comes to all of us but is not recognised by many

Hillary Clinton
She said the reason "sleeves had been rolled up" was because "woman after woman, daughter after daughter, mother after mother, grandmother after grandmother" has made it clear there was "no going back".

The memories were too fresh of a time when women would worry if their husbands, sons, fathers, would return home alive after going out to work or to socialise.

"The scars are so fresh," she added.

The first lady said it took no effort "to pick up an automatic weapon compared to picking the pieces of one's life and building a better future".

She compared those who wanted to return to the days of the Troubles, when people "knew the rules" to the followers of Moses who wanted to return to Egypt rather than travel through the desert to the Promised Land.

"There is always a back to Egypt committee or, in this case, a back to Troubles committee but none of us can afford to let that happen.

"History won't let us. The looks on our children's faces should not let us.

"This is one of those special moments when we have the chance to defy generations of hatred, a kind of moment that comes to all of us but is not recognised by many.

"It has been recognised here."

She said she had come to Belfast once again "filled with hope and certitude that this moment is seized".


Mrs Clinton also announced further details about her plans for following up her Vital Voices initiative which began with a conference two years ago.

On Tuesday she had outlined her proposal to convene a gathering of women parliamentarians from Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

"This convening of parliamentarians is a follow up to the Vital Voices conference which we held in Belfast two years ago, and is part of our ongoing efforts to make sure that women play a critical role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and in building a peaceful and prosperous island," she said.

A little more than a month after securing election to the US Senate in New York, Hillary Clinton said the convening would be part of her work to encourage women to take a critical role in the peace process.

In her speech on Wednesday, she added details about an information technology conference to be convened next year to ensure women do not end up on the wrong side of the "digital divide".

It is also intended that politics and media experts from the US will travel to Belfast to hold seminars for community activists in the province.

Mrs Clinton added that her entire family intended to return soon to Ireland, in a private capacity after her husband's departure from office on 20 January.

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See also:

12 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Women have 'critical role' in NI
12 Dec 00 | Europe
Clinton begins final Irish visit
11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton considers NI peace role
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton 'will not negotiate' in NI
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Bill Clinton 1-0 Belfast Giants
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