Meeting of UK, Irish women in politics planned


The First Lady, Mrs Hillary Clinton, has said she is planning to convene a gathering of the women parliamentarians in these islands.

She said she would be announcing further details in Belfast today, but she anticipated women from the Republic, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales attending, with US congresswomen as observers, would take part.

Speaking to women members of the Oireachtas at the US ambassador's residence in Dublin yesterday, she said she had found, in talking to women in Dublin, Belfast and London, that they "run into the same difficulties". They could "share experiences" at such a gathering, she said.

She recalled a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, where women "from the far right and communist left" found they had many issues in common. She also felt it was a way of "ensuring women play a huge role in the peace process in Northern Ireland". There were "troublesome issues there", she said, which would need reconciliation to resolve.

From "noon January 3rd" she would be a senator, she told her audience, and she hoped to build on the relationships she had formed with women around the world over the past eight years. She believed there was "still a great deal of work to be done, even in the most advanced countries", where women were concerned.

There were "continuing challenges . . . in balancing home and work" as well as in dealing with double standards. In other countries, it was often a question of basic human rights. There was so much women in public life could learn from each other. There were 13 women in the new senate, she said, "13 out of 100". There had been nine women in the outgoing senate. With "so much rancour, it was refreshing to see how these nine women treated each other with respect. There was a "great need for a civil approach to public discourse". Mrs Clinton, who was accompanied by her daughter, Chelsea, was welcomed by Ms Jane Sullivan, the wife of the US ambassador, Mr Mike Sullivan. She was introduced by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Ms O'Rourke.

Ms O'Rourke described the group of about 40 present as Ireland's "very strong and prominent" women who had "gathered to salute a very great woman".

"Imagine," Ms O'Rourke said, "a campaign of 16 months! referring to Mrs Clinton's senate run. "And the nights awake - the horrendous times . . . and the horrid things said to you and planning what to say back; the heart-wrenching in the still of the night, and wondering why did I ever?"

She praised Mrs Clinton for undertaking such "a huge adventure" at "such personal risk", and for her work in education and her focus on children. She also praised her "for bringing your daughter here", adding, "your own tell you the truth".

Ms O'Rourke, reminding them that she used to be a teacher, quoted from Robert Frost's The Road Less Travelled "I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

Ms Sullivan welcomed Mrs Clinton from "the white heat of New York politics" and quoted Herman Melville, from Mrs Clinton's book It Takes a Village, before introducing her as "the honourable Hillary Rod ham Clinton".

The senator-elect began by saying that listening to the introductions, she felt she was "recently departed and deeply loved". The Sullivans and Clintons had been friends "for more years than I care to remember".

She recalled the day when the Sullivans' then teenage daughter caused a flutter at the governor's residence in Wyoming, where they were living. The girl had dyed her hair pink "or was it orange?" "This," she had said to her parents, indicating her technicolour head, ". . . this is a life crisis!"

She and Chelsea were very happy to be here, she said, though Bill was "heartbroken he cannot play golf. I am convinced Bertie Ahern did it deliberately," and suggested the President would be back on January 22nd, two days after he left office, for a round of golf.

She thanked the women present who were wearing black suits "in solidarity". They "really do come in handy" she said, and meant you didn't have to worry every day what to wear.