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Speech at a reception to mark Wexford Rotary Club’s 40 Years Anniversary

Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday, 7th November 2019

Tá míle fáilte romhaibh go léir ag Áras an Uachtaráin inniu. Tugann thart ar 20 míle daoine cuairt ar sheomraí stáit Áras an Uachtaráin gabh bliain, agus mar gheall air sin buailim ar dhaoine as gach aicme, as gach cearn den tír, ina measc iad atá ag obair go dian chun pobail cairdiúla a chothú, áiteanna ina dtugann daoine tacaíocht dá chéile.

[You are all most welcome here today. Some twenty thousand people visit the formal rooms of Áras an Uachtaráin every year, allowing me to meet so many who form the rich texture of Irish society, including so many who contribute profoundly to the lives of their communities, creating and sustaining places of belonging, of care and of shared interests and experience.]

Today is such an occasion, and may I commence by congratulating you on your fortieth anniversary, and thanking you for your many years of generous and dedicated work, and the enduring impact it has had on the community of Wexford and beyond.

The Ireland of today is, of course, a very different one to the country we inhabited in 1979 when the Wexford Rotary Club was formed. In many ways we are a kinder and more tolerant society that has made much progress in how we treat certain groups of citizens who, in previous generations were marginalised, discriminated against, or denied a voice and a right to participate. There can, however, be no doubt that significant societal changes have also, in recent decades, posed new and complex challenges to the task of building communities that are inclusive, ethical and comprised of those willing to work together in solidarity.

Geographic mobility and enforced long commutes have become a way of life for much of our working population. A ‘long-hours’ culture has become the norm, as has the expectation, in many workplaces, that employees remain permanently contactable, often at the expense of family and community life. Pressure on housing has seen many buyers obliged to move to areas far away from their extended families and places of employment, or to live in a series of rented accommodations, with little opportunity or time to involve themselves in neighbourhood activity. 

The commitment, generosity and hard work of organisations such as the Rotary Clubs which we are so fortunate to have exist in counties across Ireland is, therefore, greatly important as we work to overcome the obstacles that now exist to the building or sustaining of the community life which has always been such an enriching element of Irish society.

Tá spiorad pobail beo beathach fós in Éirinn, mar sin féin tá sé de dhualgais orainn go léir é a chothú.

By coming together to fundraise, to engage with local schools and young people growing up in your communities, to recognise and support outstanding achievements by individuals within the community, participate in voluntary and charitable events and in so many other ways work to build and maintain that strong sense of community which offers so much potential for the flourishing and fulfilment of our citizens, you demonstrate a strong commitment to shaping a society that is welcoming to all of its members.

The concept of the rotary club is, of course, rooted in a sense of community solidarity and camaraderie. The first club was founded by a very small group of friends, living in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century and anxious to create, in that city, the friendship and community spirit that they had grown up with in their home towns. From that simple human need has grown a worldwide organization and today there are some thirty three thousand rotary clubs, in two hundred countries across the globe. Indeed, there are few places on the globe that do not have a Rotary club and I know that every rotarian is most welcome to attend any of those clubs, encouraging new and enriching friendships in communities at home and abroad.

Bíonn fáilte roimh gach rotarian i ngach club ar fud an domhain.

While the sole aim of that original rotary club in Chicago, formed in 1905, was the creation of a sense of fellowship, it soon evolved into a group who also wished to generously share their skills and talents for the benefit of their community. Today, the Rotarian’s primary motto is “Service above Self”, a statement which truly embodies the spirit of altruism which motivates those who choose to be a rotarian.

This year Wexford Rotary Club celebrates its fortieth anniversary. However, your origins, I know, date back to 1977 when a chance remark in the Talbot Hotel by Wexford man Sean Scallan, and the subsequent willingness of local business man Jurgen Sassmannshausen, to set things in motion, led to the Rotary Club of Wexford inaugural meeting in September 1978. Five months later you officially joined the worldwide network of clubs, including seventy-two in Ireland, and since then have contributed so much to the Rotary movement and to the quality of life for those who live in Wexford.

Your involvement and commitment to others includes so many areas of community living –providing social contact, helping those who are vulnerable, enabling young people to flourish and reach their potential, contributing to our cultural and sporting life, making your neighbourhoods friendlier and more pleasant places in which to live, and striving in so many other areas to create communities which offer their residents a shared sense of belonging.

I am aware that the Wexford Rotary Club also contributes significantly to our wider international community, supporting many charities, initiatives and relief projects. In advance of your visit, I was reading your website and was most interested to discover that you are supporting the very important Sand Dam Project in Kenya, which will enable rainwater to be retained and groundwater to be recharged.

This project is an inspiring example of the profound impact that small measures can have on the lives of those at risk of poverty – enabling them to farm more productively, to generate an income, and to educate their children and break the cycle of poverty, allowing a new generation to realise their full possibilities.

I know you have also supported many other worthy initiatives and relief projects such as ‘Recycle for Gambia’, ‘End Polio Now’ and Shelterbox, your definition of ‘community’ extending beyond borders and oceans as you reach out a hand of friendship to our fellow global citizens across the world.

At the heart of all your activity, at home and abroad, lies that most important acknowledgement of the importance of the public space we share, and the public world we inhabit, and a citizen awareness that brings with it, not only a sense of belonging, but a sense of responsibility for those with whom we share that public space.

I thank you for that, and for the real difference you make to the quality of life within your own communities, and to the creation of better futures for those most vulnerable on our shared planet.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil libh as a bheith linn inniu ag Áras an Uachtaráin, agus gabhaim buíochas freisin libh as ucht obair na saoránachta atá ar bun agaibh, obair fhial ghnaíúil chun pobail rafar a choinneáil ag croílár an tsochaí.

[I thank you also for making the time to come here today to Áras an Uachtaráin, and commend you for the efforts you generously and unstintingly are putting into your role as citizens, as you work to keep ethical and flourishing communities at the heart of our society.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.