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Clinton hails work of women in peace process as she becomes Queen’s University’s first female chancellor

Hillary Clinton hailed Northern Ireland as a “symbol of peace” as she was officially installed as Queen’s University Belfast’s first female chancellor

The former First Lady and Presidential candidate said she had no hesitation in accepting the position, and said Northern Ireland remained a symbol of peace and hope around the world.

As the first female chancellor, she also paid tribute to the role played by women in Northern Ireland during the peace process.

“When I was asked to become chancellor of Queen’s, the answer was easy. An emphatic yes,” said Secretary Clinton.

“I’ve always enjoyed being on university campus, talking with students and faculties, learning about their experiences and perspectives, but Queen’s is special, a university with global reach and local impact. A first class research institution, a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship in technology, business and health, an incubator for artists and activists. I’m looking forward to learning much more about this university’s exciting story and about the future you will create together.

“But there was another reason why I agreed to become a member of this community,” she continued.

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“Northern Ireland has become a symbol of democracy’s power to transcend divisions and deliver peace, and we need that beacon of hope now more than ever.

“But with hope comes responsibilities, the responsibility to be a citizen, to be willing to discuss and learn from people unlike yourselves, to debate and compromise in search of common ground to participate in our shared institutions, to respect the rights, dignity and needs of all people, and to uphold the rule of law.”

Mrs Clinton paid special tribute to the women of the peace process.

“I will never forget my first visit to Belfast in 1995,” she recalled.

“A fragile ceasefire was in place. Bill and I were here to do what we could to support the search for peace, and to light the Christmas tree at City Hall.

“It was also the first time I visited Queen’s for a reception right here in Whitla Hall. Representatives of the various factions were here too. As I remember, the Catholic leadership stood by the band, Protestants stood by the food. It is fitting that today we are all together honouring a group of women who reached across those long-held divisions to help make peace real, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition.

"Women like Bronagh Hinds, Professor Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Pearl Sagar OBE. They formed their own political party in 1996 in order to participate in the formal peace negotiations. Women did not have a seat at the table. A quarter century of bloodshed and strife and embedded sexism had discouraged most women from politics, but they were relentless in their commitment to peace. They had a great slogan too, ‘Wave Goodbye to the Dinosaurs’.

“Throughout my career as First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State, some of my most cherished memories are moments spent with the remarkable women of Northern Ireland, all waving away those dinosaurs.

“Women like the late Pat Hume, a gracious, determined force behind the peace deal.

“Women wanted the same things,” said Secretary Clinton.

“Good jobs, good schools for their children, streets you could walk down safely, a future you could believe in.

“But even here in Northern Ireland, the peace and progress so many worked tirelessly to achieve is incomplete.

“The work of integration in housing and schools is far from finished.

“Neighbourhoods remain divided. Poverty and unemployment persist. The difficulties of the past continue to threaten the present.

“Divisions over Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol and proposed amnesty legislation might very well undermine a peaceful future.

“A future that people voted for, fought for, and even died for.”

Mrs Clinton said it remains for the people of Northern Ireland to shape the future.

“I don’t pretend to have the political answers to resolve this impasse. That is up to the people of Northern Ireland,” she said.

“But I do know this, the future of Northern Ireland will be determined by the power of communities coming together, like the one here at Queen’s.

“Many of the students here today were born after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. They study together, play sports and join clubs together. They have long, deep conversations late into the night. These may be simple interactions but when considered in the context of Northern Ireland’s history, the idea of young Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists, loyalists and republicans being one another’s friends, classmates and mentors shows it’s clear these relationships are transformative.”

Mrs Clinton said the Good Friday Agreement remains a testament to the courage and faith of the people of Northern Ireland.

“But we cannot take it for granted,” she warned.

“Seamus Heaney said that sometimes people leave aside their cynicism, their bitterness, their hatreds, and hope and history rhyme. That is the choice the people of Northern Ireland made in 1998.

“I sincerely hope it is the choice you and countless others around the world will continue to make.

“Peace is a process, not an event. Seamus Heaney also told us to believe a further shore us reachable from here.

“The work here at Queen’s is far from finished but we can see that further shore,” she said.

“Let us reach towards it together and prove to the world once again that we still live in a time when hope and history rhyme.”

Mrs Clinton was appointed to the role for a five-year term in early 2020 but her official installation was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Mrs Clinton took part in the installation procession, a number of anti-war protesters, who had gathered outside, hurled insults and abuse.

The ceremony also saw honorary degrees awarded to 14 leading figures in the worlds of business, politics, sport, the arts, policing and education in Northern Ireland.

Among recipients were Derry Girls writer and creator Lisa McGee, former Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable Sir George Hamilton and Ireland’s highest-capped female athlete, international hockey player Shirley McCay.

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