Address following the Presentation of the first Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad
Tonight we celebrate together the dedicated service given by the recipients of our first Presidential Distinguished Service Award, for the Irish Abroad. It is a great honour for my wife Carol and I to be with you this evening.
Each of the individuals we are recognising here tonight has provided sustained service to Ireland and our communities abroad. None of you have sought recognition or personal gain. Your commitment to this country and our people, at home and abroad, has been truly remarkable. Today, we have the opportunity to formally thank you and the people you represent. I am particularly pleased to see so many family members here this evening. None of our achievements would be possible without the unstinting support and advice of those to whom we are closest. These Awards also represent the Government’s deep appreciation of all of our Diaspora in all its diversity.
President Higgins spoke today of the role emigration has played in shaping our history and who we are as a nation. He spoke of how Irish people naturally come together in communities and how they seek to help one another. Of course, this has become increasingly important in recent years, as we find ourselves in another period of net outward migration.
The Government supports the work of our communities abroad and has, since 2004, contributed €100 million in grants to help maintain this effort around the globe, through the Emigrant Support Programme. The organisations funded through the Programme provide a range of services, from informal community-networking groups for senior citizens, to outreach services and help in accessing entitlements.
Grants have also been allocated to support a number of community and heritage initiatives. Over the years, the Programme has also invested in long-term, strategic capital projects such as the Irish Arts Centre in New York, the redevelopment of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and the new Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. Despite significant pressure on resources, I am pleased that we have been able to maintain a significant level of support for the ESP, and in this year alone I have committed €11 million to help Irish communities on every continent. This reflects the value that the Government places on our communities overseas.
Although the bulk of our funding goes to supporting community services, our work with the Diaspora is not confined to this. We strive to reach out to our Diaspora in all walks of life. We have engaged with our emigrants at all levels and across a range of disciplines. Through the Irish Abroad Unit in my Department, and our network of Embassies, we have engaged with organisations in Ireland such as Crosscare and Safe Home that work with people considering emigration and those thinking of returning to Ireland.
We also work with groups like the GAA, whose games development work in Britain and the U.S. is a cornerstone of their activity outside Ireland. Our partnership with the GAA is a very important link to our communities abroad and GAA clubs are often vital first ports of call for new emigrants particularly in Australia & Canada. It is a fitting tribute to have Jim Stynes among the first recipients of this Award and I would like to warmly acknowledge his wife Sam who has travelled from Australia to be with us today. Jim’s legacy in Australia is a true testament to both the power of sport and the generosity of the human spirit even when facing the most difficult of circumstances.
In addition to our work with communities and vulnerable emigrants, we have also sought to harness the expertise of our most senior business figures through the Global Irish Economic Forum and the Global Irish Network. I recently launched the “one year on” report of the Forum and I am very pleased with the progress that has been made though a number of significant initiatives across a range of areas. The success of our programmes has encouraged other countries to look to Ireland to help them connect with their own emigrants. I am particularly looking forward to 2013 and The Gathering which aims to bring people to Ireland from all over the world to be part of a year- long celebration of all things Irish. This initiative, which was launched at the last Forum, is imaginative and exciting and is designed to include everyone both home and abroad. Communities, both locally and globally, are encouraged to be creative and original in their planning of events to ensure that those who choose to get involved have an experience that they will cherish and will feel connected to Ireland into the future.
The quality of the Irish Diaspora made the job of the High Level Panel, which was tasked with making recommendations to the Government for these awards, a particularly difficult one. I would like to take this opportunity to thank David Cooney, the Secretary General of my own Department, for chairing this group along with Adrian O’Neill and Martin Fraser from the Office of the President and the Taoiseach’s department. I would also like to pay tribute to the non-governmental members of the panel , Sally O’Neill Sanchez, Fr Bobby Gilmore, Profesor Declan Kiberd and Kingsley Aikins for their time and efforts in making, what I think, are excellent choices. I am very heartened by the enthusiasm and the way Irish communities worldwide have embraced this Award, and I’m sure that next year’s decision making process will be just as tough.
I would also like to congratulate Spear Product Design who created the Award. Their vision of what this Award means is encapsulated in their design. The open door is just that – always open for each and every one of you. It signifies the two-way relationship we have with our emigrants. The Awards were manufactured in the GMIT Furniture College in Letterfrack, and the hard work and expertise of the staff and students there have made the beautiful pieces that I hope will have pride of place in your homes.
Each recipient of the award for Distinguished Service, however, knows all too well about hard work, commitment and working tirelessly for Ireland. Your actions and words not only have a direct impact but also inspire others to act too. Each and every one of you – and the people that you work for, or represent – is part of a global network of which I personally am very proud.
You have made us leaders in sport, the arts, development, education, business and building bridges. Your work as the voice of the vulnerable, the mentors to the new leaders and the inspiration to the youth is extraordinary. You, and your families and friends, should also be very proud on this special day. Your names, and the work you do, have now been formally written into history. I urge you to keep up your good work and to encourage others to do the same.
And now I would like to raise a toast to “the first recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad”.
Comhghairdeas go léir - Sláinte.Top