Hil Beats Bill To Belfast

Arriving a day ahead of her husband, Hillary Rodham Clinton called Northern Ireland's women a quiet catalyst for the Belfast peace agreement but said they must play a bigger role in politics for real reconciliation to take root.

"It was women whose whispers of 'enough' became a torrent of voices that could no longer be ignored," the first lady told 600 female activists, community workers and politicians Wednesday at a conference called "Vital Voices: Women in Democracy."

Clinton's Trip To Ireland
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"It is up to you, the women of Northern Ireland, speaking out whenever injustice arises, to point out opportunities, to face up to challenges, and to speak for those who are still voiceless," she said.

Mrs. Clinton's speech brought together not only grass-roots Protestant and Catholic activists, but once-deadly opponents in Northern Ireland's three-decade-old conflict, virtually all of them men.

Sitting in the front row of one balcony were Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty, leaders of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party.

Behind them sat members of the Ulster Unionists, the major Protestant party that also backs April's compromise accord on how Northern Ireland should be governed but refuses to talk directly with Sinn Fein.

After her speech, Mrs. Clinton attended a reception in her honor in Belfast City Hall along with the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith.

Mrs. Clinton is staying overnight at Hillsborough Castle southwest of Belfast as a guest of Mo Mowlam, Britain's first female secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton planned to open a playground for Protestant and Catholic children in an underprivileged part of Belfast, then appear with President Clinton for his keynote speech.

It is Mrs. Clinton's third visit to Northern Ireland. She accompanied her husband during their precedent-setting 1995 visit to Belfast and returned without him for more public engagements last October.

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