Speech at a St Patrick’s Day Reception
Áras an Uachtaráin, Saturday 17 March 2018
Tá an-áthas orm féin agus ar Shaidhbhín fáilte a fhearradh romhaibh anseo inniu chuig Áras an Uachtaráin agus muid ag ceiliúradh Lá Fhéile ár néarlaimh, Naomh Pádraig.
[Sabina and I are delighted to welcome you all here today to Áras an Uachtaráin as we celebrate the feast day of our patron saint, Patrick.]
St Patrick’s day is always, of course, an important occasion for Irish people at home and around the world, a time when our global Irish family join together to celebrate our Irish culture and heritage, and to remember our Patron Saint whose life embodied the values of solidarity, friendship and concern for his fellow citizen.
Here in the Áras, it is also a day when, in recent years, Sabina and I, reflecting on the qualities that defined the life of St Patrick, gather together groups of citizens who have made a special contribution to Irish life. Today, we are delighted to welcome those who have been involved, in their different ways, with that most generous of acts, the act of organ donation.
The remarkable development of organ transplants is one of great successes of modern medicine and indeed it stands as one of the great triumphs of human scientific achievement. Over 3,500 lives in Ireland have been saved thanks to a successful organ transplant, with all those recipients enjoying increased life expectancy and an enhanced quality of life.
Some of you gathered here with us in Áras an Uachtaráin to celebrate a special contribution of citizens and recipients of that great gift, grateful for the new lease of life you have received; others amongst you are living donors who have performed an act of great altruism towards a fellow human being. Some of you are people who have had to make that most difficult decision, at an extremely traumatic time, to donate the organs of a loved one.
Some of you are medical staff who work at the very cutting edge of organ donation, others amongst you work behind the scenes, 24-7, so that if and when an organ becomes available, a person who needs it gets it as soon as possible.
Many of you too, I know, work tirelessly to promote increased awareness of organ donation and transplantation – campaigning, encouraging and sharing your own experiences.
For whatever reason you have come here today, you are all most welcome.
Organ donation is an act of incredible solidarity, and perhaps the greatest gift one human being can give to another. Indeed, when preparing for today’s event I read some testimonies from those whose lives had been extended and enriched by the generous donation of a new organ.
* “It has changed my life and given me freedom to achieve anything”.
* “As long as the sun shines, you will be remembered.”
* “It's only with people with a big heart, like my donor's family, that recipients like me are alive today.”
* "By going on the Organ Donation Register we all have the opportunity to be the answer to someone's prayer."
They are simple but very powerful words, behind which lies a profound message about the importance of organ donation, the great difference it can make to someone’s life, the new possibilities and potentials it can release.
Organ donation, is of course, a very sensitive and emotional question, immersed as it is with feelings of loss and bereavement. Yet, in a deeply emotional and paradoxical way, it also ties into notions of life renewed and continued: in the giving of that most precious gift of life to another person.
When faced with the numbing realisation that a loved one will not survive and illness or an accident, it is most humbling to consider that generosity of spirit that pierces through those darkest days of a personal tragedy. That decision to let go of a loved one’s body, when one’s instincts must be to cling on, can I am sure, only be fully understood by those who have found themselves in such an unenviable position. To them I say yours is a most profound act of humanity to see beyond your own pain and your own loss in those terrible days, and to reach out and provide hope and life to strangers. This is truly something to be celebrated, to be cherished and to be promoted.
More than half a century has passed since the first recorded kidney transplant took place in Ireland in 1964. In the intervening years more than 5,000 organs have been transplanted in this country and today over 3,500 people are alive in Ireland – some of you here today – thanks to a successful organ transplant.
Three years ago we marked the 30th anniversary of the first heart transplant, carried out in 1985 by a path-breaker in Irish medicine, the late Maurice Neligan. 2015 also saw the 10th anniversary of the first lung transplant, another important step in the history of Irish cardiothoracic surgery.
There can be no doubt that Ireland has a strong record on organ donation. However, we would all like to see those donation rates continue to rise so that all of our citizens who are in need of transplantation can benefit from this life-saving technology. As you know very well, while transplantation is now a commonplace technique in Ireland, too many people continue to die each year waiting for transplants.
There are approximately 550 people in Ireland awaiting life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants, and behind that figure are the many anxious family members desperately hoping their spouse, child, parent or sibling will benefit from the powerful gesture of organ donation.
Tá sé tábhachtach mar sin go ndéanfaimid ár gcion féin le díospóireacht phoiblí a chothú faoin deonú orgáin, agus daoine spreagadh lena mianta ar an ábhar a roinnt lena múintear.
[It is important, then, that we all play our part in nurturing a public debate on organ donation, and in encouraging others to share their views on the subject with their loved ones.]
If we are to ensure the sustainability of the transplant programme we must rely, not only upon the willingness of a sufficient number of suitable donors to gift their organs, but also upon the willingness of bereaved family members to consent to that request. That is why conversations around the subject of organ donation are critical.
It is important that those who carry an organ donor card are aware that it is their next of kin who will make the final decision regarding donation in the event of their death. It is a question that will be presented to them at a most difficult and stressful time, and a decision that will be made so much easier if they have been made aware of the deceased loved one’s wishes regarding the donation of their organs and tissue in the event of their death.
I am very grateful, therefore, for the valuable work that is being done to raise awareness of the value of organ donation and transplantation, including by many recipients who demonstrate a great willingness to share their experience for the benefit of others – a willingness to give back and propagate the gift of life they have received from generous donors. In just two weeks time the Irish Kidney Association will be holding their annual Organ Donation Awareness week and I know many of you here will be supporting their campaign to raise awareness about the ongoing and ever-increasing demand for organ transplantation.
Indeed, when I look around this room, it is heartening to see so many people, including our MC for this evening Vivienne Traynor, dedicated to advancing the great cause of organ donation, in order to enhance the lives of fellow citizens. I thank you for your valuable work, and for the great spirit of generosity and solidarity that lies behind it.
Mar fhocal scoir is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh ar fad as teacht anseo inniu, agus guím beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh ar fad.
[May I conclude by thanking you all for coming here today, and wishing you a very happy St Patrick’s Day.]
Finally, I would like to thank all those who have made today such a special experience: Ards CCÉ Entertainment Group, Ye Vagabonds, and MC Vivienne Traynor for enabling us to have such a celebratory occasion; and the first-aiders and the staff here at the Áras who have all worked so hard to make today a success.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.