Speech by Minister Cowen on accepting the Irish Immigration Center's Solas Award, Boston (Part II)
While celebrating the positive aspects of the experience of emigration, we are also aware of the sadness of losing so many of our talented family and friends. For many, emigration was not an easy option; but it was the only option. We know that emigration presents some people with very particular difficulties; they can sometimes, for instance, find themselves adrift and marginalised. The people who offer front-line assistance and advice services to the vulnerable Irish provide, therefore, a critically important support structure.
There is an expression in the Irish language about co-existence and the importance of community support: is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – we exist in each other’s shelter. The spirit of community service and consideration for others exemplified by people such as Arthur Murphy and George Russell Junior, this year’s recipients of the Community Service Leadership Awards, enrich all our lives.
The Irish Government strongly supports the delivery of services to Irish emigrants. For this year, I have been happy to announce an allocation of $607,000 for services for Irish emigrants in the United States. Important recipients include the Irish Immigration Centre and the Irish Pastoral Centre. This funding represents an increase of over 70% on last year’s grants, by far the largest increase ever. I would like to see this figure increase even more in the coming years to enable these vital services to be further developed. Nobody should be in any doubt but that our commitment and our support is firm, is growing and is long-term.
When I took office as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I saw the need for a more structured and strategic approach to emigration policy. I therefore established a special Task Force to advise on the development of a coherent long-term policy. Its Report contained many wide-ranging proposals and recommendations.
The issues of concern it identified can best be addressed by a collective effort involving Governmental and non-Governmental agencies. With a view to introducing a new dynamic and focus to this collective effort, I have established a dedicated Unit - the Irish Abroad Unit - within the Department of Foreign Affairs. It will work in the closest cooperation with all the agencies involved with emigrants. I especially want to see the talents and experiences of all those active in this area, such as Sr Lena, being fully harnessed for the benefit of all. As Sr Lena herself has said: “This development marks a new era in the relationship between the Irish government and the Irish Diaspora. The Unit will be of tremendous assistance to organisations such as ours as we address the needs of the most vulnerable Irish in New England.”
This dedicated Unit is headed by Ambassador Seán Farrell who is with us here this evening, together with his colleague Síle Maguire. Already, they have been active on the ground and have had the most positive of meetings in recent days in New York, Philadelphia and here in Boston. In the coming days, Ambassador Farrell will be in Chicago and San Francisco.
I have spent the past four days at the United Nations in New York. During that time, President Bush and Secretary-General Annan spoke about the role of the UN and the challenges which it now faces. Likewise, of course, President Kennedy believed deeply in the United Nations, in multilateralism, and in the rights of small nations to be heard. I have no doubt that if he was with us today, he would espouse those same concerns. In 1963, the President reminded us that small nations can and must help build a world peace, for “progress towards a world made safe for diversity.” Those words are as valid today as they were then, as we all seek to make the world a safer and more secure place for our children.
As everyone here will know, we have made exceptional progress in recent years towards achieving lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland; however, the job is not done yet. Earlier this summer, the British and Irish Governments sat down together and identified the main areas that needed to be resolved. These included a way of dealing - once and for all - with paramilitary activity. This would be accompanied subsequently by the implementation by the British Government of the programme of normalisation and demilitarisation agreed last October. We need also to see the conclusive decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons, as well as full support from all sides for the new policing structures, including an agreed framework for the devolution of policing powers. The contribution of your Police Commissioner, Kathy O’Toole, to the Patten Report has provided us with an essential cornerstone on this central issue.
Finally, and very importantly, we need a clear and unambiguous commitment from all parties to working the institutions of the Agreement on the basis of partnership and power-sharing.
A week ago, in Leeds Castle in England, we listened and talked together and discussed every possible angle and issue in a bid to get comprehensive agreement. We very nearly got there. The parties, however, still need to resolve some outstanding institutional details. All sides deserve great praise for their constructive engagement in the process so far.
As a result of the Leeds talks, I strongly believe that we now have a genuine and early prospect of finally pursuing politics in Northern Ireland through exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and on a basis of real partnership and equality between nationalists and unionists. The significance of this cannot be overstated. The people will not lightly forgive if, having come so far, this extraordinary opportunity is let slip.
In his address to the Dail and Senate in 1963 President Kennedy said: “Across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies”. I am confident that, together, we can now and at an early date overcome the remaining challenges in Northern Ireland. I know that there is no place where our success will be more appreciated and celebrated than here in Boston.