Hillary Clinton basked in the obvious admiration of a group of influential Irish-Americans yesterday afternoon—even as she put forth a more humble account of her role in the Irish peace process than she has previously.
Her address to the Irish American Presidential Forum, held in midtown Manhattan, did not include any references to her being “instrumental” in the quest for peace—terminology she has deployed before.
Instead she said, “I learned and I listened and I did what I could.” She spoke about “working below the level of leadership … to create the conditions for peace on the ground.”
Clinton also turned her attention to the future, promising to appoint a special envoy to Northern Ireland if elected president. This, she said, would be a person “who reports directly to me” rather than being “something farmed out … to a desk officer in the State Department.”
And she raised the possibility of establishing “Irish bonds,” similar to Israel bonds, as a way of strengthening economic ties between Ireland and the U.S.
On immigration, however, she hewed close to a familiar formulation, insisting that there should be “a path to legalization” for illegal immigrants, but only as part of “comprehensive immigration reform.”
During his own 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton impressed Irish-Americans when, at a similar forum, he endorsed the idea of a special envoy to Northern Ireland (George Mitchell eventually filled the role) and promised to issue a visa that would enable Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to visit the U.S.
That visa was indeed issued and at the event yesterday, Hillary Clinton said, “I was very proud of my husband for forging ahead and fulfilling that promise.”
There were lighter moments, too—Clinton claimed that the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations during her husband’s administration “were the best parties of the entire eight years” and added, “We will bring them back.”
She also teasingly told the crowd, in relation to the position of Irish envoy, “Those who wish to apply, please do so.”
One of the organizers, former State Assemblyman John Dearie, said at the event’s close that while he “didn’t want to get into domestic issues,” he thought Mrs. Clinton had “done spectacularly” while he characterized Mr. Clinton’s 1992 performance as merely “very good.”
Earlier, as Clinton ran late, Dearie entertained the crowd in the sweltering room with a song, “The Girl That I Married.” In a side room, his co-host, radio broadcaster Adrian Flannelly, said to no one in particular, “This is why I’m a chronic smoker. I have to go out for a cigarette every time he does this.”
The tone had been more serious earlier on, as the speakers who preceded Clinton displayed a sensitivity to accusations that she had exaggerated her role in the peace process.
“Those of us who were involved know damn well she was involved,” said Brooklyn D.A. Joe Hynes.
“Were it not for the Clintons, there would be no Good Friday Agreement and there would be no peace in Ireland,” said Flannelly.
The former president was to be honored for his work on the Irish peace process at a separate midtown event in early evening.
“Say hello to my husband,” Mrs. Clinton said, cheerily, as she left the forum.