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Column: Let's recognise and appreciate the fine men and women who have served Ireland

The 50th anniversary of the death of JFK elicited understandable emotion here… but we must also appreciate our home-grown peace brokers, inspiring figures, and everyday heroes, writes Colm Bergin.

Colm Bergin

WITH THE 50th anniversary of the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy there was an understandable wave of emotion that gripped society and the media. But with all the newspaper ink and airtime that was used to mark it, a person could be forgiven for missing an equally significant event last week; the passing of Fr. Alec Reid, one of Ireland’s most influential peace brokers.

Father Reid risked his life to help bring about the end of the Troubles, the years of violence that affected countless people in our country. He acted as a vital intermediary between the communities and helped guide the peace process along a difficult path.

We often look abroad for figures we can aspire to emulate, yet we fail to realise and appreciate the fine men and women that we have been serving and working for Ireland throughout the last 50 years. If we were to appreciate these people, then we may be spared having to look back at old black-and-white reels and photographs seeking hope and inspiration. If we would actually appreciate some of these amazing people, then we may find a sense of lost pride in our own country.

Inspiring public figures

We need not go too far afield to find a man that was so influential during the ’70s and ’80s that he was often referred to as “the United States 101st Senator”. John Hume commanded such affection and respect in Washington DC that he could have potentially stalled Ronald Reagan’s legislative agenda if Northern Ireland was not on it.

This was done with the help of leading political figures in the US, which were collectively known as the Four Horsemen. They saw in John Hume a man that could be trusted and a man that was respected on all parts of the divide. This man worked tirelessly to promote peace in Northern Ireland and yet today many people of the post Good Friday Agreement generation are not aware of the work or the man, though these same people would undoubtedly have heard of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Another person who has somewhat faded from Ireland’s public consciousness is a woman who had been, and in some quarters continues to be, touted as a possible successor to Bank Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General. Mary Robinson has been, to quote President Barack Obama, “an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored. Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world”.

She has been chosen by Nelson Mandela to be part of his group, the Elders, “an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights”. All this comes after decades of work in the Seanad and the Courts promoting women’s rights and those of the disadvantaged. She followed these achievements by bringing new life to an antiquated office in Aras an Uachtarain.

Unassuming, everyday heroes

Even outside the realms of politics, there are endless others living in Ireland who are equally as inspirational. The likes of Rio Hogarty, who has fostered over 140 children over the past 40 years, and Brother Kevin Crowley, who set up and has run the Capuchins Day Care, that give out thousands of free meals and food parcels to those in need, add much to society and somehow do not register in the public’s consciousness in the same way as JFK’s short presidency.

The author is by no means claiming that we should forget President Kennedy or the work of his administration. He did much for the disadvantaged and for the cause of the Irish in America – but please do not remember him at the expense of the people mentioned in this article like Fr Reid, Mr Hume, Mrs Robinson, Ms Hogarty and Bro Crowley and the legion of others not mentioned here.

President Kennedy set a standard, telling us that we should not “ask what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.” We should continue to hear that calling, but not forget those who have heard it and answered already.

Colm Bergin has experience in both politics and public policy having worked in New York, Brussels and Washington DC. He is a graduate of Government and Public Policy at UCC and holds a Diploma in Law from the IPA.

We’re interested in your ideas and opinions – do you have a story you would like to see featured in Opinion & Insight? Email opinions@thejournal.ie

Read: Fr Alec Reid offered ‘image of decency struggling to assert itself amidst brutality’

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Colm Bergin

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