Earlier this afternoon, Hillary Rodham Clinton took to the stage of the Ed Burke Lecture Theatre to join Mary Robinson in conversation, ahead of the conferring of her honorary degree from the university.
Clinton was introduced by Trinity’s Dean of Research Linda Doyle in advance of her public lecture address and conversation with the chancellor of the university. Doyle began her introduction by describing Clinton, saying “she has served the public with passion and dedication from very early days”. Her impact in advancing women’s rights in civic and political life has reverberated across the globe, Doyle expressed, as she relayed Clinton’s remarks after she won the Democratic Presidential nomination: “I’ve made 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”. However, Doyle noted that even those cracks were not enough to shatter the ceiling.
Following Dean Doyle’s introduction, Clinton began with an address to the audience. Clinton reminisced on her connection to Ireland, noting in particular her time involved with the Good Friday agreement, alongside her husband former, US president Bill Clinton. Clinton began her work in the North with the creation of women’s groups, describing the women she met as “some of the women that would go on to help bring an end to the Troubles – mothers and activists who came together over cups of tea, as well as those who formed a coalition and claimed a formal seat at the table”.
Since Clinton’s last time visiting Ireland, a lot has changed across the island, with one of the most notable developments being the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Clinton stressed that Brexit should not undermine the Northern Ireland peace process – “peace that people voted, fought and even died for”.
From Northern Ireland to the US border, Clinton discussed the current situation facing thousands of immigrant families at the country’s southern borders. Images of children and babies being separated from their families have garnered global attention in the past few weeks, with Clinton expressing her disgust at “babies being ripped away from their parents”. Trump’s current policy has resulted in young children being treated cruelly as political pawns, according to Clinton. Even in this darkest hour, however, Clinton praised the “outpouring of moral conviction, civic engagement”. She credited the actions of new found activists with Trump’s recent decision to take a step to end family separation. Despite this, those in attendance were warned that the fight is far from over, and it is this duality that is the nature of our times.
Clinton’s speech was followed by a standing ovation, after which she was joined on stage by Chancellor Mary Robinson. The conversation began with Robinson reciting Clinton’s quote “Try again, fail again, try better,” following this up with a question of where her resilience stems from, in particular relating to Clinton’s loss of the US presidential campaign. Clinton credited her source of resilience as stemming from her mother. Her mother experienced a difficult upbringing, which resulted in building her strength and resilience, which in turn was passed down to Clinton.
The recent referendum on the eighth amendment was discussed, with both Clinton and Robinson praising the work of the Citizens Assembly as they reiterated the need for civic involvement in the political decision making process. The conversation turned from politics towards the economy, with Clinton emphasising the need to shatter the glass ceiling, for society and the economy alike, with Robinson noting that GDP rises across the globe when the female workforce is fully integrated into the economy.
Wrapping up the conversation, Robinson asked Clinton what her funniest moment in the White House was, to which Clinton replied: “Well, how much time do we have?”. Following a conversation centred on many serious issues, this added a touch of light-heartedness to the event. Clinton told the audience of how during the first few weeks of her time in the White House, she asked for a few ingredients to prepare a dinner for her daughter. Obviously not used to such requests, the White House staff passed the order on to the Secret Service, with them remarking that “nobody has ever asked that before”. The telling of the resulting chaos caused provided many laughs for those in attendance.
The event ended as it began, with a standing ovation from the crowded Ed Burke theatre. Whilst the reception Clinton received inside the lecture theatre was undeniably warm and welcoming, the situation was remarkably different outside.
For the duration of the event, between 40 and 50 protestors gathered in opposition to Clinton’s visit opposite the Arts Building. Grouped in a large square formation, they chanted “Palestine will be free” and “warmongers not welcome,” among other slogans. The protest was largely composed of members of Students for Justice in Palestine and Trinity’s Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement campaigners, joined by activists for the Irish Anti-War Movement. They later lined the ramp of the Arts Building, brandishing posters and the Palestinian flag.
Additional reporting by Aisling Grace