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U.S. News

Dublin, Belfast agree Clinton did her bit for peace

DUBLIN (Reuters) - U.S. opponents of Hillary Clinton may be challenging her view that she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, but on the streets of Dublin and Belfast she gets mostly a pat on the back for the part she played.

Clinton, in a tight battle with Barack Obama for the U.S. Democratic nomination for the White House, pushed the issue onto the agenda of U.S. politics by touting her involvement in helping end 30 years of bloodshed in the British province as one of her foreign policy achievements.

The Obama camp retorted by saying she had inflated her role and published a memo from Greg Craig, a former State Department official, who said her claim for even partial credit was “a gross overstatement of the facts”.

The Clinton camp sought to validate her case by publishing a statement of support from Nobel Peace Prize winner and former leader of Northern Ireland’s SDLP party John Hume.

He spoke of her “positive role” and the gratitude of Northern Ireland people for “her very active support”.

Gratitude seems to be the primary response in Ireland among people who are only too quick to criticize their own politicians when they claim credit for securing peace.

Clinton’s husband, Bill, helped broker the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that paved the way for a power-sharing government in Belfast and a greater role for Dublin.

She says she was actively involved in those efforts as first lady and continues to be engaged with leaders from Northern Ireland. Speaking on Saturday, she pointedly questioned whether Obama could lay claim to the same level of contact.

On Northern Ireland’s Slugger O’Toole current affairs Web site the question “Did Hillary overstate her role in the peace process?” triggered 100 responses, mostly backing Clinton’s version of events.

“She came here and listened to people as did her husband for all his faults,” wrote one respondent called ‘LURIG’. “They gave so much time to the North ... No, her input was not overstated.”

“ROLE MODEL”

Although Craig’s memo said Clinton’s claims had “raised eyebrows” in Ireland, ‘victor1’ wrote on the Web site that she was entitled to stress her experiences in Northern Ireland.

“I would say the Clintons’ input into the peace process was fairly extensive and influential.”

David Trimble, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Hume, has questioned Clinton’s contribution. He told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that “being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player”.

Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein which is the political ally of the now disarmed Irish Republican Army, told the Irish Times he was not endorsing any presidential candidate but that “Senator Clinton played an important role in the peace process”.

On the streets of Belfast there was a sense that although she wasn’t directly involved in peace talks, she did her bit.

“She worked more with the community sector as opposed to the big politicians so in that sense she definitely had a small part to play,” said one woman who asked not to be named.

In Dublin, bookshop owner Nick Mansfield, 39, said she helped change attitudes behind the scenes: “She would have been a role model for women and the women would have told their husbands to stop being such twits (fools).”

Some were less enthusiastic about her contribution.

“She was just there,” said Alan Beattie, 54, on Belfast’s Shankill Road. “Okay she went to a lot of meetings, women’s meetings, but she didn’t do anything. It was Bill who did it.”

But Martin Mansergh, a lawmaker who advised three Irish prime ministers on Northern Ireland and brokered paramilitary ceasefires, said the “constructive role” of pro-peace women’s groups backed by Clinton should not be underestimated.

“With the possible exception of Jack and Jackie (Kennedy), Bill and Hillary were a first in that they were a team and their White House did actually play a very significant role in the peace process,” Mansergh told Reuters.

In the 1,500-page tome “Lost Lives” which tells the story of each of 3,661 people killed between 1966 and 2001, Hillary Clinton is mentioned three times -- one more than her husband.

The book recounts how at the White House she met a mother whose young son had been shot and how after the gruesome 1998 Omagh bombing she placed white carnations at a memorial to the victims and visited patients injured in the blast.

Additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Belfast and Jonathan Saul in Dublin; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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