Presidential Distinguished Service Awards 2014

Presidential Distinguished Service Awards 2014

Published: Wed 1st Oct, 2014 | 23:05

The recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for 2014 are announced

Actress Fionnula Flanagan, top EU civil servant Catherine Day, author Thomas Kenneally and Irish-American activist and publisher Niall O’Dowd are amongst those to be honoured with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for 2014.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, T.D., announced the recipients for this year’s award following a meeting of the Government today.

Minister Flanagan was speaking from Washington DC, where he is meeting US Vice-President, Joe Biden, Secretary of State, John Kerry, and senior US officials today to discuss issues including the Northern Ireland peace process, Irish-US economic links and immigration reform. Earlier this week he met Irish community groups in New York to discuss immigration and welfare issues.

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award was established by the Government following the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum as a means of recognising the contribution of the Irish Abroad to Ireland and to our international reputation.

Announcing the recipients of the 2014 award, which will be presented in October, Minister Flanagan said:

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these remarkable people for what they individually contributed to Ireland, to the Irish abroad and our international reputation.

“The Presidential Distinguished Service Award acknowledges the many ways in which our diaspora contribute to Ireland. Whether through their charitable work, their support for Irish communities, or their contribution to the arts, their service and commitment to this country is a shining example to us all and I am delighted that they will be honoured by the President in such a fitting manner.

“Engagement with the diaspora was a priority on my first official trip to Britain recently. I had very constructive meetings with the Irish community in the United States this week and I look forward to maintaining the strong connection to Irish communities throughout my time as Minister.”

Jimmy Deenihan T.D., Minister for Diaspora Affairs, added:

“These ten people show the remarkable diversity of Ireland’s reach in the world. For the first time, there are awardees from the UAE, Korea and Russia, in addition to the more expected locations of Britain, the US, Canada and Australia.

“The nominations are made in different categories, but there is enormous overlap. For example, Colm McLoughlin is, deservedly, nominated for his business successes, and using that success to support Ireland’s reputation; but he is equally an unstinting supporter of the Irish community in Dubai.

“They are not all Irish born. Thomas Keneally, the wonderful writer, is first and foremost an Australian; but he is proud of his Irish heritage and has written and spoken about it. Niall O’Dowd has become one of the best known voices of the Diaspora here in Ireland.

Taken together, this group show diverse talents: cultural awareness, business acumen, humanity, far sightedness and, in different ways, a concern to make the world a better place. I want to congratulate them all and look forward to meeting them when they come to Ireland”.


The recipients of Presidential Distinguished Service Awards in 2014 are:

Arts, Culture and Sport

Fionnula Flanagan (US)

Thomas Kenneally (Australia)


Charitable Works

Fr. PJ McGlinchey (Korea)


Business and Education

Jim Flaherty (deceased,Canada)

Catherine Day (EC)

Colm McLoughlin (UAE)


Irish Community Support

Mary Allen (Britain)

Avril Conroy (Russia)


Peace, Reconciliation and Development

Niall O’Dowd (US)

Kevin Cahill (US)

The Awards will be presented by President Higgins in October.


Note for Editors

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad is neither an honours system nor does it confer any legal entitlements upon the recipients.

In order to be eligible for consideration, nominees must be habitually resident outside the island of Ireland and are required to satisfy the following additional requirements:

(i) have rendered distinguished service to the nation and/or its reputation abroad;

(ii) have actively and demonstrably contributed to Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad in at least one of the categories listed above;

(iii) have a track record of sustained support and engagement with Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad over a period of not less than 5 years.

The scheme is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a High Level Panel was established to make recommendations to Government. This Panel includes: Mr Niall Burgess, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Chair), Mr Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach; Mr Art O’Leary, Secretary General to the President; and four representatives from the non-Government sector- Ms Sally O’Neill Sanchez, Prof Declan Kiberd, Mr Kingsley Aikins and Fr Bobby Gilmore.

Nominations were made by Irish communities abroad through Ireland’s network of Diplomatic Missions.

2014 Recipients
Arts, Culture and Sport
Fionnula Flanagan (US)

In 2012, Fionnula Flanagan celebrated almost 50 years of stage, film and television work and received a life-time achievement award at that year’s Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA), presented to her by President Higgins. She is considered one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Joyce.

Since moving to the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles in the early 1970′s with her husband Garrett O’Connor, she has mentored and supported many Irish looking to succeed in the entertainment business in the US. She is a strong supporter of the Irish language and of the Irish Arts in the US. She has assisted the Irish Film Board and the Consulate in their work to promote Ireland as a location for US film and TV productions and to promote Irish productions in the US. She has opened the doors of her home to host events on behalf of the Irish community in Los Angeles, in particular the annual Irish Film Festival.

Thomas Keneally (Australia)

Thomas (Tom) Keneally is a well-known Irish-Australian novelist, playwright, author and commentator. He has published more than 30 novels, dramas, screenplays and books of non-fiction. He has won numerous prizes including the Booker Prize for ‘Schindler’s Ark’.

In addition to ‘Schindler’s Ark’, Keneally’s novels, ‘The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith’, ‘Gossip from the Forest’, and ‘Confederates’, were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has written extensively of Ireland and Irish history, most notably in ‘The Great Shame’.

Tom Keneally’s work has spanned many countries and peoples but Australians and the Irish are recurring subjects. In 1992 he published Now and In Time to Be, a travelogue reflecting on Ireland and the Irish. In 1998 he published The Great Shame, his non-fiction work covering an 80 year period and charting the history of the Irish who were dispersed around the world during and after the Famine. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics, published in 2011, looks at the Great Famine in Ireland, the Great Famine of British-ruled Bengal in 1943, and the string of famines in Ethiopia during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2013, he wrote the book for a musical entitled “Transport” which tells the story of the impoverished Irish women and young girls (the so- called “undesirables”) who were deported on The Whisper, a prison ship, to the Australian penal colonies.

Born in Sydney in 1935, Keneally identifies closely and proudly with his Irish background. His grandparents came from Newmarket in County Cork.

Charitable Works
Fr. PJ McGlinchey (Korea)

Arriving in Jeju, Korea in 1954 Fr. Mc Glinchey, a priest with the Missionary Society of St. Columban, was faced with a society that was deeply traumatised and ravished by poverty. Lead by his faith and knowledge in agriculture he set about helping to pull thousands of Jeju citizens out of poverty.

His model of development and profitable farming encouraged use of underused farm land and new farming methods. St. Isidore farm was founded to include pigs, sheep, cows and now a stud.

A textile factory, employed up to 1,700 Jeju women in a time when jobs on the island were scarce. His forming of a credit union changed the economy of the island and helped the citizens emerge from poverty.

Fr. Mc Glinchey never forgot the island people setting up Isidore Nursing home, hospice, kindergarten and a youth centre which for over 18,000 young people from all over Korea. These welfare activities, some funded completely from donations and profits from the farm, take care of Jeju’s most vulnerable.

For 60 years, his extraordinary drive, dedication and vision has changed the lives of those on Jeju and Ireland is now associated with this great island. His tireless dedication gave them not just hope but a belief in what they could achieve themselves.

Business and Education
Jim Flaherty (deceased,Canada)

The late Jim Flaherty, Canada’s federal Minister of Finance from 2006 to 2014, was an exemplary supporter of all things Irish. He supported many Irish related projects in Canada including, the establishment of Ireland Park, the restoration of O’Connor House in Toronto, funding for the Darcy McGee centre in Carlingford Co. Louth, Federal funding for ICUF, the restoration of the famine graveyard on Partridge Island and the Irish Festival in Miramichi.

Mr Flaherty’s political career began in 1995. From 1995 until 2005, he was the Member of Provincial Parliament for Whitby-Ajax, and a member of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party caucus and unsuccessfully sought the leadership of the provincial party on two occasions. He held the post of provincial Minister of Finance for Ontario (2001–2002).

Mr. Flaherty won the riding of Whitby-Oshawa in the federal election held January 23, 2006 as a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. Mr. Flaherty’s widow, Christine Elliott, currently represents Whitby-Oshawa in the Ontario legislature.

He practised law for 20 years before formally entering politics in 1995. He was a founding partner of Flaherty Dow Elliott.

Mr. Flaherty grew up in a Catholic family in Montreal, and was of part Irish descent. As a youth he was an avid hockey player and won a hockey scholarship to Princeton University.

Catherine Day (EC)

In her role as European Commission Secretary General, Catherine Day has influenced the EU landscape through her championing of the enlargement of the EU to 28 Member States and her central role in shaping a coordinated response to the recent economic and financial crisis.

Catherine Day was appointed as Secretary General in 2005, during the Barroso Commission, having previously been the Director General for the Environment.

She has an M.A. in International Trade and Economic Integration from University College Dublin and went on to become loan officer at the Investment Bank of Ireland in 1974. In 1975 she became EC Information Officer at the Confederation of Irish Industry entering the European Commission in 1979 becoming an Administrator in Directorate-General III.

From then she served in the cabinets of Richard Burke, Peter Sutherland and Leon Brittan. Before becoming Director General for the Environment she served in Directorate-Generals of Enlargement and Directorate-General for External Relations.

Colm McLoughlin (UAE)

Colm McLoughlin is the Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, an airport retailer with a turnover of US$1.6 billion in 2012. Owned by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Duty Free manages all aspects of the retail operation at Dubai International Airport. McLoughlin is also Chairman of the Dubai Duty Free Foundation, a non-profit charity founded in 2004 which is under the auspices of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Duty Free.

Over the past 30 years, Colm McLoughlin has been an integral part of the Irish community in the UAE. Both in his highly successful professional career with Dubai Duty Free (DDF), and in his leadership roles across almost every Irish organization, Colm McLouglin has played a hugely positive role in the promotion of Irish interests in the UAE.

Irish Community Support
Mary Allen (Britain)

Ms Allen has been active in the Irish Community in London for over 60 years and has been a particularly successful fundraiser primarily for the London Irish Centre and the Council of Irish County Associations, of which she is now President.

Mary Allen has been a key community worker for the Irish since she arrived in London in 1948.

Throughout the London Irish Centre’s (LIC) 60 years, she has been involved in fundraising for the Centre’s welfare work, as a member of the organisation’s Administrative Committee’, and more recently resigned as a Trustee after 14 years.

Ms. Allen is one of the few people who has been an active part of the LIC since it was founded in 1954. In addition to her dedicated work for the LIC, Ms. Allen has also supported the community through her work as a member and officer of both the Waterford Association and the overall ‘Council of Irish Counties Association’. Both organisations, with Mary’s support, have raised thousands of pounds over the years to help vulnerable Irish people and others in need.

Ms. Allen has always been a ‘lay ambassador’ for all that is good about Ireland and for a number of

years was heavily involved in celebrating positive Irish culture through the London Irish Festival. In

its final 5 years, Ms. Allen was the lead co-ordinator of the Festival.

All of Ms. Allen’s life in England has been spent supporting her family, promoting a positive message of the Irish nation and its people, and many works of community support.

Avril Conroy (Russia)

In 2013 Avril Conroy became director of regional sales at Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company Ms. Conroy moved to Russia in the early Nineties, joining BP in 1998. She helped establish BP’s network of filling stations across Russia.

Ms. Conroy is a central figure in both the Irish and wider business community in Russia, and has made a major contribution across a broad range of areas.

She chairs the Irish Club in Moscow. It is a role she has held for many years and under her guidance it has become an invaluable resource for the Irish community in Russia. Ms. Conroy plays a central role in the celebrations of St. Patrick’s week every March, including organising the annual St. Patrick’s Day Ball (with all proceeds going to charities in Russia), and the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Moscow city centre, the only such event of its kind permitted here. She also organises the annual White Ball in December, the Santa Claus Christmas event for Irish community kids, a book club, running club and various other events to bring the Irish community closer together, and, in her own unique way, a little bit closer to home. She is also seen as the media ‘go-to’ spokesperson for Irish related stories.

Peace, Reconciliation and Development
Niall O’Dowd (US)

Niall O’Dowd is the founder of Irish Central website as well as of Irish America Magazine and the Irish Voice Newspaper. He is also responsible for publishing community news and The Irish Emigrant newspaper in Boston.

Mr. O’Dowd has created numerous successful business networks through his publications. He founded the Wall Street 50, Top 100 Irish Americans, Business 100, Top 50 Women in Business, Irish Legal 100, Science and Technology 50 and the Irish America Hall of Fame. He co-founded the Silicon Valley 50 with the Irish Technology and Leadership Group. He also established the US-Ireland Forum.

Mr. O’Dowd was a founder of the Irish Americans for Clinton campaign in 1991, supporting candidate Bill Clinton for president. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by University College Dublin for his work on the Northern Ireland peace process.

He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University journalism school. He has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Irish Times and many other leading publications. In 2002, he published a book Fire in the Morning, about Irish people at the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Mr. O’Dowd is one of the founding members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which was established in 2005 to lobby the US Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.

Kevin Cahill (US)

Kevin Cahill is a medical doctor with a decades-long record of service to the Irish community in New York and the global community. He is President-General Emeritus of the American-Irish Historical Society and has been active on its behalf for more than 40 years.

As a distinguished doctor of medicine, Dr. Kevin Cahill has not only treated patients including Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, but has offered his vast expertise to a number of national and international organizations including the United Nations and the New York Police Department,. Cahill began his medical career in 1961, studying tropical disease in the slums of Calcutta beside Mother Theresa.

Cahill’s relief efforts have since spanned the globe and include treating refugees in Sudan, serving concurrently as the special assistant to the governor of health affairs, chairman of health planning commission, and chairman of the Health Research Council of New York State. Cahill has cared for patients in some of the most war-torn places in the world,.

From 1969-2006 he was chairman of the department of tropical medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In addition, he has been director of the tropical disease centre at Lenox Hill Hospital, clinical professor of tropical medicine and molecular parasitology at NYU Medical School, and the consultant in tropical medicine for the United Nations Health Services.

He has written many influential works that chronicle his experiences as a tropicalist and a physician, as well as articles and essays on his love for Irish literature, art, culture, humanitarian efforts and international diplomacy.

As the president-general of the American Irish Historical Society, Cahill has refurbished its prestigious townhouse home on New York’s Fifth Avenue and has continued the effort to raise the awareness of Irish Americans of their cultural history and ancestry.

Raised in an Irish immigrant home in the Bronx, Cahill has maintained a strong connection to Ireland both through his professional and personal work.