This is an absolute personal delight for me to have this opportunity to be here with so many people who I have known over so many years and who have made contributions large and small over those years to bring peace to this beautiful land. And I am very grateful to you, Kieran, for putting this together and for everything you do at the Worldwide Ireland Funds. It is a great tribute to the Funds that you are exceeding your funding goals in this time of recession, because people are still so committed to doing what must be done to continue supporting the peacemakers and the decision makers here in Northern Ireland.
I could be here for a long time acknowledging people, which would be a terrible mistake on my part. But I do have to mention a few whom I see in the audience. I am honored to be joined by two men who are known for their commitment to peace and their willingness to work for it, John Hume and David Trimble. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you (inaudible).
And of course I've had already an excellent discussion with Peter and Martin and the more that I have the chance to be with them and work with them, the more impressed I am by their steady leadership and their very sensible, down-to-earth, practical approach to providing the peace and the peace dividend that the people of Northern Ireland so graciously deserve. They both said these incredibly nice things about me. They exceeded their quotient for eloquence by a long shot, but it means the world to me because I not only consider them colleagues, but friends. And so Peter and Martin, thank you. Thank you for what you do every day. (Applause.)
Minister Ford, Secretary Villiers, thank you as well for your contributions. And I was told that Doctor Paisley was here. (Applause.) Dr. Paisley, thank you so much for being here today. It's just wonderful seeing you and I hope I'll have a chance to personally greet you before I leave. I was also told Gerry Adams was here. Is Gerry here? Hi, Gerry. (Applause.) I also want to recognize Lou Susman, who has served so (inaudible) as our U.S. Ambassador. And also our Consul General, Greg, thank you for your services here. And I, too, will acknowledge and thank our former Economic Envoy Declan Kelly who has done so much to help bring more investors to the region, and I thank you for your contributions, Declan. (Applause.)
I'm sorry that Loretta cannot be here, but we send our best wishes to Loretta Brennan Glucksman and thank her for her chairmanship of the American-Ireland Fund. But it really is remarkable that for 35 years the Funds have promoted peace without taking sides, and they have been viewed as an important participant in the process of bringing people together. And I was delighted to hear that so many of the groups that I know continue to do such good work will be supported by them.
There are a number of my former interns who are here from the Ireland Funds, who I was privileged to host in my Senate office. They are extraordinary young people. I am very proud of them. And one of them I first -- she first came to my attention in 1995 when she was 14 years old and she sent Bill and a deeply moving letter about the future she dreamed of for Northern Ireland. Then I knew her as a bright young intern when she came to work in my office and helping serve my constituents in New York, and apparently that experience really took because today we know her as the Lord Mayor of Armagh, Sharon Haughey. (Applause.) Sharon, why don't you stand up? Where are you, Sharon? The next generation of leadership. There she is, way back there. Do you have your chain on -- you got it? Good. (Laughter.) And I think she's getting married later this month, so congratulations on that.
One person who is not here that I could not come to Northern Ireland and address any group without mentioning is Inez McCormack. Inez stands out amongst the extraordinary people I have met and worked with over the last 17 years. She inspired and motivated me, challenged me often, and we're sending her our thoughts and our prayers and our best wishes as she fights a courageous battle against cancer. (Applause.)
Now, I think that we have all recognized and applauded already today the fact that the peace has proven remarkably durable, but I think it is only fair to say it is being tested, it will continue to be tested. Prison officer David Black, who was murdered last month, the police and citizens who have been assaulted, the elected officials threatened, including Naomi Long, who is here with us today -- it has been a sad reminder, unfortunately, that despite how hardy the peace has been, there are still those who not only would test it but try to destroy it. And I really commend the leaders and citizens from the many groups who have condemned this violence, and of course, I join them in condemning it as well.
It's very clear that the voices of the responsible leadership are needed more than ever to remind us all that peace comes through dialogue and debate, not violence, and we have to be strong in the face of provocation and testing that will continue. Democracy is a challenging form of self-government, but it is the best that has ever been invented by any human being, and therefore we have a lot to be both proud of and very careful to continue nurturing. And for me, it is a reminder as well that we have to continue to make sure that the promise of peace is delivered. Because the progress in a democracy can never be taken for granted, even progress so hard-won as here.
I remember very well when Bill and I came 17 years ago this month. He was the first American president ever to set foot in Northern Ireland. We stood behind a bulletproof screen to turn on Belfast's Christmas lights in front of a vast crowd that stretched so far I could not even find the end of it in any direction. And it was a moment of such hope. And it has been that image that has kept me going through any challenges that have come across my mind when I think about what lies ahead. I said this morning in Stormont that a little girl, Catherine, who was there that night, said that her Christmas wish was that peace and love would last in Ireland forever. That is an appropriate Christmas wish for this season as well.
I also remember that there were still roadblocks, not just because the President of the United States was visiting. There were still searches for explosives as one walked into department stores. Those roadblocks are gone and the searches have ended. Many of us did a double-take when, this summer, Queen Elizabeth came for a visit and joined Martin McGuinness in that historic handshake. More and more foreign students are coming here to study at Queen's and Ulster universities. So there still is such a sense of hope. But we know that we're suffering in a terrible economic downturn, and I think it's important to recognize that there has to be an economic return on peace, especially for democracies that have to deliver results for people.
And although the real credit of the progress that has been made belong to the people of Northern Ireland, those of us who have tried to help along the way, like George Mitchell or my husband and so many others, will continue to walk with you as you practice and tend to this peace. It is always a work in progress, and we have to do more to get out of the ballrooms, out of Stormont, into the communities where people live, where there yet is not that sense of lasting hope and optimism.
Now, I've been especially privileged to work with some of the community activists, and particularly a lot of the women, who are here with me today. I remember the late Joyce McCartan, who called herself a family feminist. I love that term, and in fact, adopted it. But what she understood was that peace had to affect families. Families had to believe that life would be better for themselves and their children. I remember meeting with Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar at the White House when I was First Lady, and they wanted to talk about how to grow businesses, how to convince people -- especially women -- to participate in the economy and the politics that was being created. So yes, we did use Vital Voices as a mechanism for bringing not only women together, but having them then reach out to others in a great chain of potential.
So there's a lot that we can be proud of, but I want to just offer a cautionary word. Because if we do not focus on the community level -- and as David Trimble said to me earlier today, on that interface -- we will not have really achieved the peace that has been worked for. So I'm looking for new ideas about how to help you do just that. How can we better make an impact on those who are either indifferent or negative toward what has been achieved? How do we reach the hard-to-reach communities -- the young man from a loyalist community whose father couldn't find work and who sees his own chances for a good job slipping away, the young woman from a Republican family who's had to give up the idea of going to university? We can be more creative and thoughtful about how we support the political leadership of Peter and Martin and other elected leaders by trying to help them from the ground up.
So my offer to you is, as I leave this current position and become a private citizen again, I want to continue working with you. I want to support you in what you are doing. And I hope that we'll have a chance to really come to grips with some of the serious remaining problems that are still plaguing the fulfillment of our aspirations for the people of Northern Ireland. Of course I look forward to coming back and having some time just to relax and spend a few hours talking with friends and thinking about things besides public life. But I'm very serious about this offer and very serious to the Ireland Funds that I want to remain involved as a friend, an advocate, and a cheerleader for what you have already achieved.
And so as we approach another Christmas season with all that it represents -- a season of hope and good tidings -- let's reach out to those who don't yet feel that in their heart about what has been achieved by the hard work and sacrifice of so many here and so many who have come forth. And know that the greatest gift we can give to any of our fellow man or woman is the gift of peace and of love, and that's what I want to see for the future for every child, boy and girl, here in Northern Ireland.
Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)