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Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad 2014
30 October 2014
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Charles Flanagan T.D.
Ladies and gentleman,
My wife Mary and I are delighted to be here with you tonight to honour these remarkable individuals, the recipients of this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad.
This is the third year of these awards – an initiative introduced by this Government to acknowledge, in a formal way, some of the many persons of Irish citizenship or descent who have made a sustained and distinguished contribution to Ireland or Irish communities abroad.
With a diaspora of over 70 million we have quite a standing as a small nation. My Government colleagues and I are committed to a continued and meaningful engagement with our diaspora in all its diversity. As many of you are aware my Department is currently undertaking a review of the Government’s Diaspora policy. The policy paper will be published in the coming months.
We are very aware of the two way relationship with our diaspora: in summary, the diaspora is both a resource and a responsibility.
Looking in, our engagement with our diaspora has had many positive impacts for Ireland from economic links, resulting in trade, investment and tourism to important roles played in efforts to bring lasting peace to this island and to the strengthening of the ties of our culture and heritage.
Looking out to our diaspora, while for many the narrative has been positive and enriching, there are also many who have found the experience of leaving Ireland difficult and challenging. Our commitment is to be there to engage and support them all. The appointment of my colleague Jimmy Deenihan as Minister with special responsibility for the Diaspora is testament of our commitment to the global Irish community.
The Emigrant Support Programme, which is administered by my Department, is one of the key tools we have for supporting, building and maintaining connections with our diaspora. The programme provides funding for community organisations around the world working with Irish emigrants and their descendants. Since my appointment, I have met many emigrant support groups and visited a number of centres in the US and the UK. On each occasion I have been struck by the dedication, compassion and hard work of the staff of these centres and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that contribution.
Indeed it can be said that while the Emigrant Support Programme provides funding many of our recipients here tonight embody the spirit of the programme – supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our community abroad; promoting Irish culture, Irish heritage and increasingly Irish businesses; and in so doing fostering a vibrant sense of Irish community and Irish identity in our diaspora.
Unfortunately due to other pressing Government business in Belfast I was unable to join you all earlier at the Áras an Uachtarán as President Higgins acknowledged and thanked each of you for your contributions.
I would like to record my own personal thanks to you all.
Fr PJ McGlinchey
I will begin with Fr PJ McGlinchey who, unfortunately, is unable to travel to be with us tonight. He has spent his entire life creating a better one for those less fortunate. In 1954 he arrived as a young missionary to Jeju, Korea, a country devastated by war, with communities living in desolate poverty. Thanks to his extraordinary drive, dedication and vision a strong self-sufficient community exists there today and his is an example of true solidarity and generosity.
The late Jim Flaherty was a friend of Ireland. I am delighted that we are joined by Jim’s wife Christine Elliot, and his sons here this evening. The Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, and I spoke warmly about Jim’s legacy on both sides of the Atlantic when I met with in Dublin a fortnight ago. In Jim’s sad passing, Ireland lost a real friend. Jim’s fingerprints are visible on Ireland’s recent positive economic story. We are truly grateful for his tireless work on behalf of our country and we will be forever grateful to him. Jim’s affection for Ireland is often spoken of. Let me tell you first hand this was a mutual relationship.
Mary Allen has been tenacious in making the voice of the Irish community in Britain heard in such a positive way through the years. The drive and energy you display every day through your community work is remarkable. Mary, your work through the Counties Association recognises the special sense of place among the Irish overseas, as well as at home. Attachment is not just to the country but to the county and, sometimes, even the parish. Mary, you could teach us politicians a thing or two.
Niall O’Dowd’s work in the background, and indeed in the foreground, has in no small way helped to bring us along our journey to peace on this island. Niall, for your constant support and never giving up on the issues that can better the lives of our people both at home and away, thank you. And while Niall has been honoured for his contribution to the peace process, I also want to acknowledge his continued support for emigration reform in the United States. I was pleased to recently meet Niall in New York to discuss a range of issues of importance to the Irish community there.
Colm McLoughlin; your professional achievements at the helm of Dubai Duty Free for over three decades have been ground breaking. Your successes helped build Ireland’s positive reputation in the UAE and across the Gulf. You are an integral part of the Irish community through your generous support and leadership to Irish people and Irish business projects at every opportunity.
Avril Conroy deserves much credit for the creation of a vibrant cohesive Irish community in Moscow. As a central figure in both the Irish and wider business community in Moscow you have brought energy, support and enthusiasm to all things Irish, often in personal and touching ways that have had huge impacts on individuals in the Irish community.
Fionnula Flanagan is an actress of great renown and warm esteem and I am right in saying that any company would feel privileged to have her join them. Fionnula, through your distinguished career, you have raised the profile of the Irish arts. We thank you for this but your work behind the scenes as a crucial support to other artists is equally worthy. Your generosity with your time and talents, mentoring and supporting young Irish artists and fledgling Irish productions abroad, has had an immeasurable impact.
Kevin Cahill is a medical doctor, whose distinguished career began studying tropical disease in the slums of Calcutta beside Mother Teresa. Kevin, your humanitarian spirit has shaped and influenced so many areas in health and development across the globe. Your legacy also extends to the indelible mark you have left on the story of the Irish in America through your long involvement with the American Irish Historical Society. An involvement born of your deep insight and commitment to your Irish heritage.
Catherine Day is renowned as a passionate European who has achieved so much in the role as Secretary General of the European Commission. Catherine, your achievements have benefitted all of Europe and has been a great source of pride to us at home in Ireland. We learn by watching effective role models. You stand apart as a role model for all in public service, in Ireland and across Europe. In particular, you are a fantastic role model for young Irish women committed to public service and to the EU project.
The breadth of the written work of Tom Keneally is astounding. Tom, you have devoted so much of your work to enriching and thought provoking studies on Ireland and Irish history. Your sense of Irishness is palpable through your work. We are proud to call you one of our own – even if we have to share you with Australia.
To all of you I say a heartfelt thank you. However none of us would be who or what we are without the love and support of those near and dear to us. This foundation is necessary in all our lives to enable us to go forward and achieve greater things. We are delighted to be joined here tonight by the families and friends of our recipients. To you, I also say thank you for your role in the achievements we are marking tonight.
It is a great pleasure for me and my Department to be involved with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award.
I would like to thank the members of the High Level Panel tasked with the job of making recommendations to Government for the Award.
We are joined tonight by, Niall Burgess, Chair of the Panel and Secretary General of my Department, Martin Fraser, Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach and the non-government members Sally O’Neill Sanchez, Fr Bobby Gilmore, Kingsley Aikins and Declan Kiberd. Unfortunately Art O’Leary, Secretary General at the Office of the President, who is also on the Panel, cannot be here tonight. Thank you all for a fine job.
The presentation of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad to this extraordinary group of individuals inscribes in history our nation’s pride and gratitude to them for how they have honoured Ireland.
Without further ado, I would like to ask you all to raise you glasses and toast them and their remarkable achievements.
Congratulations to you all.