Address by MoS Ciarán Cannon,T.D. Irish Fulbright Awardee Ceremony
Speech11 June 2020
A chairde, it gives me great pleasure to be here today and I am delighted to extend my warmest congratulations to the 36 Irish Fulbright Awardees for 2020 – 2021.
In these strange and unprecedented circumstances, there is all the more reason to find time to celebrate the achievements of those around us. The Fulbright Commission, which is a partnership between the Irish and US governments, is a demonstration of the strong links between Ireland and the US.
As Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, I oversee diaspora support and engagement. It has been said many times that Ireland’s greatest asset is its people. Indeed from the establishment of the State, Ireland has deeply valued its diaspora. Much of my work focuses on empowering Irish communities abroad to remain as connected as possible to Ireland and to each other.
The United States is the country where we have the largest diaspora population and our relationship with the US is one of the deepest, most important and most enduring that Ireland has. Last year, we launched an ambitious US & Canada Strategy, which aims to double our impact in the US. Continued connections and exchanges at every level are important to achieving this goal. For generations, Irish people have emigrated and settled in the US. In more recent times, a wide range of exchange programmes exist between the US and Ireland, serving to strengthen links between our people. Thousands of students and scholars have gone between the two countries through the J1 programme, the Mitchel Scholarship programme, the Eisenhower programme and indeed the Fulbright programme, returning home with precious experiences, memories and networks.
Fulbright is the pre-eminent exchange programme between Ireland and the US, and it plays an essential role in building transatlantic understanding and extraordinary academic and people-to-people links. In my Department, we are deeply committed to supporting exchanges between our two countries at every level, and we have long been a supporter of Fulbright, in partnership with the US Government. Our support has increased in the last two years, both financially, but also in terms of helping the Commission expand the talent that it reaches. The talent that the programme brings to Ireland is only made possible by the vital role that the Fulbright Commission plays, as well as the invaluable work that all the Commission staff and Board do – so I just want to thank them now. I know that the Fulbright Commission, with its prestige and the talent that it attracts, is envied by countries across Europe and further afield. Thanks are also due to the Irish Universities for their part in this reciprocal endeavour.
Fulbright has always propelled collaboration between the brightest minds. The role of Awardees in driving international research and keeping global channels of communications open is more important than ever. In the past 60 years, over 2,000 students and scholars have gone between the two countries through the Fulbright programme, returning home with experiences, memories and networks. As you join this distinguished group, I am confident that the fascinating and important work and study that you undertake over the coming year will contribute greatly to international research issues.
Ireland is a proud emigrant nation and we support people going abroad - and coming back. And while I know the current COVID19 crisis means that travel looks different this year, and this may mean some of you will be beginning your scholarship in the virtual space, you are still going to forge paths across the Atlantic. We want to support our scholars in staying connected to Ireland, and in building bridges that will benefit Ireland and the US. You are testament to this and your willingness to experience new things, to be open to new ideas and practices and to make that great leap across the Atlantic is why you have been chosen for Ireland’s pre-eminent academic exchange. I also know that it is why you will also be successful. I therefore want to thank you for the exceptional work that you have already done, that brought you to this zoom room today, and to thank you in advance for the work that you will do in America. I am sure it will be exciting and enlightening. I know that it will benefit you personally, as well as Ireland more broadly.
Know that you walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before you as Fulbrighters. Make the absolute best of your time in America. It will fly by - and let me assure you that whenever you have completed your programme, we will be here to hear about your great adventures, and most importantly, your new connections and your big ideas. As a small country with a highly educated and highly mobile population, we also rely on you to bring back the best that you see. The Irish have done this for generations; it has helped to enrich our economy, our media, our culture; to broaden our vision and enhance our overall societal wellbeing. Indeed, this year, my Department launched the Irish America Series, in which we aim to capture and institutionalise the experience of Fulbrighters, as we forge ever deeper ties between Ireland and the US.
Please also know that your safety is our priority. In addition to the support you will receive from the Fulbright team in Ireland and in the USA, my Department is here to support Irish citizens internationally, especially in times of crises. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with the nearest Irish diplomatic mission in the US – there are eight across the country – should you need any assistance.
I wish this year’s Awardees every success for their time in the United States.