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Speech by President Higgins at the 2022 Presidential Distinguished Service Awards

Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday, 8th December 2022

Speech by President Michael D. Higgins

Presidential Distinguished Service Awards 2022
Áras an Uachtaráin
Thursday, 8th December 2022

A Thaoisig, Baill de’n Rialtas, Teachtaí Dála, a Aire Stáit, Ambasadóirí, Baill de’n Corps Diplomatique, Aíonna uilig – 

Fearaim fíorchion fáilte romhaibh uilig go Áras an Uachtaráin do’n ocáid speisíalta seo. 

Taoiseach, Ministers, Deputies, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests, a cháirde – 

As President of Ireland, may I welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin for what is a very special occasion.

I welcome in particular our guests of honour – the recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2022, and I do welcome too those recipients receiving the award retrospectively, for 2020 and 2021 which couldn’t be received in person because of Covid. I welcome the representatives of those unable to be with us, and all of those guests who are accompanying our recipients or their representatives.   

Today’s ceremony, which is the 11th year of these distinguished awards, is a gesture of recognition for service and actions that are beyond the self, be it in terms of their motivation, their impact on the lives of others, or for the exceptional achievement that they represent and enhance the reputation of Ireland. The awards seek to recognise the moral sensibility that such actions indicate. In short, the awards recognise the outreach that such actions represented to the ‘Other’ in whatever circumstances they were undertaken.  

That is why it is appropriate to celebrate the unique and special commitment of those involved for their personal efforts, sacrifices, and contribution to the achievement of excellence in their chosen field.  

Such actions as yours – borne from compassion, generosity, selflessness, commitment to the inclusive uses of culture – have resulted in a form of distinguished service to the nation, to its reputation abroad. Some of you here today have indeed a record of sustained distinguished support and engagement with Ireland and Irish communities abroad over a very long period. Others present have given sustained and distinguished service on a global or international issue of importance. Including global poverty or combating racism. 

We are living in times that cast a dark shadow. We are challenged not to allow these shadows to defeat our best hopes, impulses of the heart, to weaken our compassion or lessen solidarity, our desire to seek a more inclusive, just world. It is all too easy, when confronted with the multiple crises with which we are now grappling – be it the climate and biodiversity crisis, the hunger and famine that is enveloping East Africa, the democratic crisis across the globe that is so socially ruinous, or the return to war in Europe following the invasion by Russia of Ukraine – we must resist to being overwhelmed or having any  sense of despair. 

However, your actions which we honour today are an inspiration to so many, an encouragement to us all to put our talents, energy, innovation and creativity to good use for the benefit of present and future generations. Your actions have been sourced in both heart and soul, in mind and intellect. Your actions are borne out of a sense of our shared, innate human decency and a sense of social responsibility for the achievement of a participative, active form of citizenship such as might be the hallmark of a flourishing democracy and society, wherever it is located.

Participative citizenship enables talents and skills to become widely and fully utilised, enabling citizens to belong in the deepest and most fulfilling of ways. 

May I suggest that we must all encourage and empower people from all walks of life to be active citizens in their own day-to-day activities. This means that we must encourage others, as well as ourselves, to become and stay informed, critique thought-provoking issues across all spheres of relevance to local, national and international levels, engage, be present and show empathy. By doing so, we can nurture support for the achievement of a more harmonious, inclusive, sustainable and peaceful world.

We need no reminder of the global interconnectedness which defines our contemporary existence on what has, alas, become a fragile, burning, planet. One in peril. Having lived through a pandemic that has drawn a heavy toll in global terms, be it in terms of lives lost, lives impaired, livelihoods imperilled, we Europeans are now once again embroiled in war, with all its loss of life, destruction of essential services, and deflection of resources, intellectual and practical, from the tasks of eliminating hunger and poverty.

In their different ways, our recipients today are exemplars of a shared and common humanity, a form of active global citizenship, a shared world of discovery and responsibility in science, commerce, the arts and culture, sport, community outreach, charitable works and most important of all peacebuilding.

We, all of us Irish, can be very proud of those members of our diaspora who have made such a special and much-needed contribution to society and our world, particularly those who have located their lives among the global poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the excluded, exemplifying, as they do, an Irishness of which we can be proud in so many ways.

Distinguished Irish people, such as those we honour this evening, reflecting the best instincts of our diaspora, have impacted, and continue to impact, with distinction and originality in their chosen spheres. 

They have changed the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised and brought compassion, aid and a spirit of solidarity to those struggling or grieving. They have used their creativity to conceive of new forms of artistic endeavour. They have fought adversity to achieve sporting excellence. They have promoted arts and culture in Ireland across the world. 

They have excelled and given a lead in science and in its global application for the betterment of all humanity, including the important scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have undertaken important scholarship across the arts, humanities, business and social sciences.  They have fought passionately for the vindication of basic human rights, including the right to be free from hunger, the most important security of all. They have worked tirelessly to promote peace and reconciliation in our world.

These are extraordinary endeavours for which I, on behalf of the citizens of Ireland, wish to express my profound appreciation.

We are joined this evening by all the members of the High-Level Panel who deliberated on this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Awards. My thanks to them. I am delighted to see so many of you here this evening. Finally, may I thank Olivia O’Leary for once more agreeing to present our ceremony and for doing so with such grace and skilful charm.

Comhgháirdeas libh go léir agus gach rath oraibh as bhur gcuid iarrachtaí amach anseo. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir, is beir beannacht oraibh uilig.