Speech by Minister Cowen on accepting the Irish Immigration Center's Solas Award, Boston (Part I)
Chairperson, Shannon O’Brien
Senator Kennedy and Mrs Kennedy
I am very glad indeed to be back in this great city of Boston. And I am especially grateful to Sr. Lena and her energetic team of colleagues for their invitation to be with you tonight.
It is a great pleasure to see you and Vicky here tonight.
I am deeply honoured to receive this award from you.
After I return to Ireland this weekend, I will attend the All-Ireland Final between Kerry and Mayo. I am sorry that you cannot join us. I believe that another ballgame is underway at Fenway Park tonight. In New York this week, a lot of people were following a team called the Yankees. However, I believe this is really the year for the Red Sox. I wish them the best!
I want to pay a particular tribute to the Senator tonight, on behalf of the Government of Ireland. Senator Kennedy and his family represent a very proud immigrant history, and one in which great pride is taken at home in Ireland.
Senator, so many of my generation, growing up in Ireland in the 1960’s and 1970’s, were inspired by the leadership of President Kennedy and your family. For those of us drawn to public service, you continue to lead by your extraordinary example and commitment: as the outstanding legislator of our time, as a great friend of the immigrant and as a champion of peace in Ireland, your record is outstanding. We are deeply appreciative.
Tonight, I am touched and greatly honoured to receive the Irish Immigration Centre’s 2004 Solas Award.
Solas, in the Irish language means “light.” For my generation, Senator Kennedy and his family have been a true beacon of light for those of us in political life.
When President Kennedy arrived at Dublin airport, just over 41 years ago, he expressed, quite rightly, the special pride which he felt in the generosity of the United States over the years to so many immigrants from so many different countries. I am proud and pleased that the Irish Government’s special publication, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that defining visit to Ireland, resides today in the John F. Kennedy Library.
I want to extend a special welcome to all the communities represented here tonight. The links between us all form a vital part of our dialogue in building a better understanding of all our needs and concerns. President Kennedy noted that “everywhere, immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” The work of the Irish Immigration Centre, as well as the Irish Pastoral Centre and others in Boston, has served that cause exceptionally well.
You have done extremely fine work in this City. Not only that, but you are serving a third consecutive term in Office - an achievement that intrigues me! Perhaps you might share the secret with me later! But I would like tonight to emphasis that your constant engagement and support for the Centre, and your role in celebrating diversity in Boston, is much admired and appreciated. We are indeed very grateful. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the Dunfey family here tonight. They have been a great support to Sr Lena , and have of course also shown a strong commitment to our peace process at home.
But our special appreciation this evening must go to Sr Lena and her team. The fact that this person of exceptional talent comes from my own political constituency of Laois-Offaly is, of course, entirely coincidental!
My pleasure in receiving the Solas Award is heightened by the fact that I had the opportunity last year to visit the Irish Immigration Centre and to see at first hand the hugely impressive work that is carried out there. I was enormously impressed by the spirit of teamwork under the leadership of Sr. Lena, her dedicated staff and her network of volunteers. I am delighted that in fifteen short years the Centre has gone from strength to strength, and is now such a huge and valued resource for the immigrant community.
Although the focus of the Centre’s work has traditionally been on immigrants from Ireland, Sr Lena and her team have also worked pro-actively to extend their services to immigrants of other nationalities. In doing so, they have developed a special working relationship with the City of Boston.
We are proud of the work of the Centre as a Walsh Visa Programme Hub. The efforts made on behalf of the programme’s participants in Boston are greatly appreciated and I am certain that those efforts will pay off, not only for the participants themselves but also for Northern Ireland and the border counties. I would like to express the special appreciation of the Irish Government for the support and commitment of the Employers involved in this Programme.
For the Government of Ireland, the value of the work of Sr Lena and the Irish Immigration Centre team lies in the first place in the practical support and advice that they provide to countless Irish emigrants who have made their new home in this region. But also, and most importantly, it lies in the experience and wisdom they have shared with the Government – and with me personally – about the complexity and reality of the immigrant experience. This has helped us to gain a much fuller understanding of the particular concerns and needs of immigrants. And this, in turn, has helped and motivated the Government in developing new and focussed approaches.
Emigration, a central theme in the Irish experience, has touched in one way or another every family in Ireland, including my own. My personal commitment to emigration issues reflects the broader national awareness in Ireland of the huge debt that we owe to our emigrants, and to their role in helping create the success story that is Ireland today.
Emigration to America represented a new opportunity for many, and our people in turn made good lives for themselves here. They have made, and continue to make, a distinctive and invaluable contribution to the social, commercial and political development of this country. In doing so, they have brought great credit on themselves and on Ireland.