Mon, 29 Jun 2020 22:00:55 BST
A Tribute to Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith
29 June 2020
May I begin by extending my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. It is an enormous honour for me to speak here this afternoon on behalf of the Government of Ireland to pay a heartfelt tribute to the Ambassador, who had a lifelong engagement with, and affection for, my country.
57 years ago this week, Jean Kennedy Smith accompanied President Kennedy to Ireland and sat in the chamber of our Parliament to hear her brother deliver a speech that continues to resonate with us to this day. She heard him quote the Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw:
“I dream things that never were and say why not.’’
The Kennedy family have always been both great dreamers and high achievers. Jean Kennedy Smith was firmly part of that family tradition.
Thirty-five years after the President’s visit, Ambassador Kennedy Smith helped Ireland make the dream of peace a precious reality.
During the long nightmare of conflict in Northern Ireland, peace on the island of Ireland had seemed to many of us a very distant prospect. The grim continuation of violence cast a dark shadow over our country.
That was how things were when the Ambassador arrived in Dublin in 1993, a year before paramilitary ceasefires were declared.
At that time, Ireland was at a dangerous cusp. Yes, there were intimations of political progress in the air, but there was also a very real risk of a descent into a deepening spiral of violence.
When the Ambassador departed our shores in September 1998, the historic Good Friday Agreement had been signed and democratically endorsed by the people of both parts of Ireland.
The cause of peace in Ireland benefited from the Ambassador’s legendary determination, creativity and imagination. I was in Dublin during those years and remember her as a real presence in our public life. She helped bring the healing weight of American influence to bear on the divisions that had plagued Ireland for generations.
I had the privilege of being part of our Government’s delegation to the talks that led to Good Friday Agreement and can testify to the powerful impact made by President Clinton and Senator Mitchell, backed by our many friends in this country, including Ambassador Kennedy Smith. That active American input was critical in securing a successful outcome where previous efforts had ended in failure.
The Good Friday Agreement, for which the Ambassador laid part of the ground work, was a game-changer for Ireland which has ushered in a generation of peace and saved countless lives.
This gift of peace is part of the Ambassador’s legacy for which my country owes her an immense debt of gratitude.
As Ambassador she also served to reaffirm and reinforce the unique ties that bind our nations, personal, commercial and emotional.
And she encouraged progress in our own state – above all towards gender equality.
It is a legacy of which any Ambassador, of any country, at any time, would rightly be proud.
Her connection with Ireland did not end in 1998 and she maintained contact with those she had met in Ireland, paid us regular visits and kept up a keen interest in Irish affairs.
I hope that her family and friends will find comfort in the fact that Jean Kennedy Smith played important role in the life of the ancestral homeland of the Kennedy family at a crucial time in our history, and that her contribution is fondly remembered to this day.
As we say in Irish, ‘Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. May she rest in peace.
Daniel Mulhall, Ambassador of Ireland
Delivered at a Gathering of Love & Thanksgiving in Memory of Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, 25 June 2020
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