In presenting the Tip O’Neill Diaspora award to Massachusetts state senator Therese Murray, President Michael D Higgins said the award strengthens the links between Massachusetts and Ireland.
Here is the full text of the President’s speech at the awards ceremony in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel, Buncrana on Friday night.
Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo libh anocht chun Gradam Diaspóra Tip O’Neill a bhronnadh anseo i gceantar dúchais Tip i nDún na nGall.
[I am delighted to be with you this evening to present the Tip O’Neill Diaspora Award here in Tip’s ancestral home of Donegal.]
Tonight we mark and celebrate the many members of our global Irish family who make us proud and represent us so well in countries around the world. As a nation we are very conscious of the great debt of gratitude we owe to the many members of our Diaspora who remain loyal to the country in which they or their forefathers were born; generously supporting and encouraging those who remained at home and helping to shape and craft the modern Ireland we know today. The story of Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century has been written by American Irish scholars who are now succeeded by a new generation of social historians on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a most powerful case history of people becoming victims of an abstract ideologically driven economic theory.
A history of emigration
Ireland’s migration story is one of dispossession, hunger and forced exile. It is a story that contains hardship, destitution and great suffering. It is also a story, however, of many twists and turns and new beginnings, woven throughout with tales of opportunity seized, innovation and re-invention; and above all, the importance given to education and to participation in public service and politics. It is those stories we celebrate here this evening as we gather for the presentation of the third Tip O’Neill Diaspora Award.
Throughout our history, emigration has been a feature of Irish life, rarely voluntary, most often enforced by circumstance. Although we are an island of just some six million people, we have a worldwide diaspora of 70 million. Over half of those, some 44 million, live in the United States, a place with which we have deep and profound ties of history and kinship.
Earlier this year I was privileged to make my second visit to the United States as President of Ireland, and visited Chicago, Illinois and Bloomington, Indiana. I met many members of our Irish American family during that visit and was greatly struck by their great commitment to maintaining and deepening their connection to Ireland and the Irish people.
It was a commitment manifested in many ways; through the work of organisations such as the Irish Fellowship, the Ireland Network and the Chicago Sisters City Committee who network and advocate on behalf of Ireland as we play our part on a global stage; through creating vibrant communities determined to keep Irish culture alive and vibrant and relevant and to pass that heritage on to future generations of Irish Americans; and, importantly, lobbying too for immigration reform and better living and working conditions for the many immigrants who continue to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before.
Memories of Tip
It was uplifting and inspiring to be reminded of the generous and supportive global family we, as a nation, have been gifted with. I am delighted, therefore, to be here tonight for an award presented in memory of one such member of our far flung family, the late Tip O’Neill.
At the time of Tip’s death in 1994, Bill Clinton movingly summed up the life and persona of that great man in the following words:
“He loved politics and government because he saw politics and government could make a difference in people’s lives. And he loved people most of all.”
Tip, with his great compassion and his commitment to the principles of equity and justice, was unafraid to engage in tough principle-driven politics, while at the same time demonstrating the skills to achieve bi-partisan cooperation. This was and is a rare combination.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, which culminated in becoming Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, he spoke to and for both the Irish community and all vulnerable residents in the United States. He firmly believed in the responsibility and capacity of government to bring about social change and its duty to resolve many social problems, and one of his great legacies is the improvements he achieved in the lives of his fellow Irish Americans, as well in the lives of many marginalized groups he supported in America.
I first met Tip O’Neil with Teddy Kennedy during the 1980s when we were both concerned about some radical proposals being introduced by another Irish American, who happened to be President, concerning Central America. Tip O’Neill, and Senator Edward Kennedy took the necessary principled position but did not allow this difference with the incumbent President to disrupt dialogue on other issues. Tip O’Neill was the great judge of the value of bi-partisanship and of what should be bipartisan while respecting difference.
Tip O’Neill was also, of course, one of the most important US advocates for peace in Northern Ireland. His vision and his determination to make Ireland a better place were crucial in the negotiations that led to the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 and the establishment of the International Fund for Ireland.
It is a fitting tribute therefore, that this prestigious award be established in his memory and presented to other members of our Diaspora who have made their own unique contribution both on the global stage and on the maintenance of links between Ireland and our global family.
A deserving winner
This evening I have the great honour to present this award to Therese Murray.
I hope that Therese will not mind if I draw a connection between her political achievements and that of the other great figures of Boston-Irish Democrats. We celebrate here tonight both Therese and Tip O’Neil but there are so many others that have made an immense contribution the public life of the United States, while at the same time championing the cause and image of Ireland in the world. Over my political career I had the great pleasure of meeting many of these leaders and representatives and on behalf of the Irish people I want to express our enduring gratitude for the support that the activists and elected representatives of Massachusetts have given to Ireland.
Therese has pursued a hugely successful career in American politics, now holding the position of Massachusetts State Senate President. Your record of legislative achievement is substantial and broad-ranging. Children’s rights, mental health, affordable housing and education are all areas of interest which I share. That you have also successfully delivered reforms in areas as diverse as criminal justice, small business, public sector hiring and pensions is a testament to a politician of great skill and immense intellectual ability. There can be no doubt that, since being first elected as Senator in 1992 you have worked tirelessly with such principle and courage for the community she represents and has achieved improvements in the lives of the people of her State.
That your greatest achievements are in the area of healthcare reform is a testament to your capacity for leadership - and more than anything a testament to your courage!
Therese Murray, like Tip O’Neill, has remained deeply connected to her Irish roots and heritage. I understand that your father’s people are from Cork and your mother’s from Limerick. My mother’s were from Cork and my father’s Limerick - so I know that you are blessed with the finest of heritage!
Indeed her work on developing economic ties between the island of Ireland, particularly the North-West region of Donegal and Derry, is worthy of special mention tonight. The North-West has faced, and continues to face, challenges unique to its geography and the complexities the political border places on economic development of this region.
Therese works in the most positive way to help communities on both sides of the border to overcome those challenges. She has visited Donegal and she has encouraged others to visit the county and the region. She has welcomed many visitors from Ireland including official delegations from Donegal who have enjoyed her hospitality in the State Capital on Beacon Hill and her commitment to reinforcing the very strong cultural, economic and political ties that are forged, on the bonds of kinship and friendship that join our two great nations, represents all that is good and commendable about Irish people across the world.
In Therese’s own memorable words:
“Our nations’ borders and the oceans that separate us are not, and cannot, be barriers to finding solutions for the issues we all face”,
She is a true friend of Ireland and this award tonight further strengthens the links between Massachusetts and Ireland, especially those links here in the North West. There can be absolutely no doubt that Therese is such a worthy recipient of tonight’s award, and a fitting successor to its two previous recipients, Niall O’Dowd and Brian Schweitzer who have also made their own unique impact as members of our wider Irish family.
Is mian liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le Therese as ucht an ghradaim seo a bhaint amach, agus gach rath a ghuí uirthi agus í i mbun a cuid oibre thábhachtach amach anseo.
[I would like to congratulate Therese on being chosen for this great honour, and I wish her every success as she continues with her important work.]
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.