Honouring Our Meritorious Citizens by RunaiGSI

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The Office for Active Citizenship in Ireland has proposed the introduction of a 'national presidential awards, system, however, the Genealogical Society has campaigned for such since 2006. This article outlines the possibilities such a scheme would offer Ireland and her Diaspora.

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									© Genealogical Society of Ireland, 2007

The Office of Active Citizenship in Ireland has called for the introduction of a ‘national presidential citizenship awards’ system in Ireland (see Irish Times 22 April 2009 www.irishtimes.com ). However, the following article was published on the website of the Genealogical Society of Ireland (www.familyhistory.ie) in 2007 outlining the Society’s proposals for such and its campaign on this issue since 2006.

HONOURING OUR MERITORIOUS CITIZENS
This is an update version of the article written by Michael Merrigan and published in “The Irish Times” on May 22nd 2006 following the publication of the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006. In this decade and indeed, the next, we’ll encounter many centenaries of important events in our relatively recent history. Many of these centenaries will undoubtedly challenge our notions of nationhood, inclusivity and good neighbourliness in an Ireland much changed in the last ten years. Almost coinciding with the “normalisation” of the situation in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland has changed utterly both economically and socially. According to the latest census figures (2006) over 10% of the population of the Republic was born outside the State with a sizeable number coming from outside the European Union. This situation is creating a new and exciting multicultural and multiethnic Ireland, a modern pluralist republic far removed from the strangulating insularity that was so disastrously the hallmark of the State for much of the twentieth century. This modern Ireland has unintentionally encouraged and indeed, spawned a popular reclamation of the essence of true republicanism, where our citizens frequently and proudly replace the rather sterile and bureaucratic term of “the State” with the more confident and inclusive assertion of “our Republic”. Though, this phenomenon was very slowly emerging during the late 1990s, it has blossomed at all levels and amongst all political persuasions since the “normalisation” of politics north of the border. This most certainly should not be confused with the republicanism “branded” and suitably “packaged” by certain Irish political parties but it is simply the republicanism of the citizen alone. Freed at last, both politically and economically, by an island at peace, we as Irish citizens can now fundamentally question our engagement with our republic and what it means to be a citizen of that republic. Ireland’s wonderful economic success, including the essential inward migration of workers from overseas, has created a nation that is outward looking, confident and

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progressive and, yet for many citizens, it is a detached and seemingly uncaring land. Our values and personal goals are increasingly expressed in materialism, so all consuming, that it has virtually destroyed the once vibrant volunteerism in Ireland. For communities, clubs and charities throughout Ireland, many of which, serve the less fortunate, vulnerable and disadvantaged amongst us, the Celtic Tiger has swallowed up meagre funds and the pool of volunteers alike. These voluntary and community organisations have been plunged in to adopting emergency plans, streamlining operations and falling back on the few dedicated and, in many cases, aging individuals who selflessly sustain many operations as volunteers. These few individuals devote many hours each week to their communities offering services, support and encouragement to their fellow citizens, many of whom, take these volunteers and their work totally for granted in our republic. As Irish citizens seeking to engage with our republic we must first examine and define the Ireland we want for our children and ourselves, but to do so, we need to fully appreciate the potential within each of us, that which is within our grasp as individuals. Normally we look to our champions, leaders, best achievers and most successful to demonstrate the possibilities open to us as ordinary citizens. In all walks of life we recognise excellence, service and achievement, but unfortunately this has all too readily been synonymous with wealth, glamour and power. This has inevitably fuelled cynicism and a begrudging satisfaction with the sometimes tabloid newspaper induced fall from grace for many who were once worshiped as the social or sporting icons of the age. Strangely in looking for Ireland’s own “icons” we list many whose achievements were either outside the republic or the island of Ireland. Sportspersons, movie stars, writers and filmmakers and quite naturally, our own champions of global humanitarian issues, all rank high in our collective esteem. Some have been formally recognised through competition such as sports tournaments and the Oscars, others are Noble Laureates and some are recipients of Orders and Honorary Knighthoods bestowed by friendly neighbouring governments. In our republic, it seems, we’re content to rely on the external recognition of individual achievement by our citizens. Whilst not diminishing in anyway their worthy recognition internationally or indeed, locally as most are also bestowed with the highest honours possible by their hometowns like “Freedom of the City of Dublin” for Bob Geldoff, we must ask ourselves if this is the way our confident republic should recognise its citizens of note and their achievements?
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Many Irish universities through, the awarding of honorary doctorates to Irish citizens and members of the Irish Diaspora in recognition for achievements at home and overseas, have unwittingly demonstrated the failure of our republic in this regard. Besides awarding honorary Irish citizenship, as in the case of former Republic of Ireland Manager, Jack Charlton, the State has no legislative facility to recognise or honour achievements by its citizens or by our cousins in Ireland’s Diaspora. The presence in Dublin in 2006 of the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of the British queen, at the ceremony hosted by President Mary MacAleese to award and recognise young people from both parts of Ireland for their contributions to the development of their communities was a marvellous occasion. This was undoubtedly one of the fruits of the new and evolving very positive relationship between a confident modern republic and a friendly neighbour which is also adjusting to its own role in the world of the twenty-first century. But this ceremony for the President’s Gaisce Awards is especially and only designed to encourage and reward our young citizens – what about the not so young volunteers in our communities? The initiative launched by An Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, TD, to encourage and develop active citizenship and the engagement of the ordinary citizen in a great national “conversation” on our republic was a very positive development. This Government initiative is but one of many aimed at stemming the terminal decline in Irish volunteerism which has accompanied the growth of the Celtic Tiger economy. The initiative resulted in the production of a fine report from the Task Force on Active Citizenship1 which was established by the Government in April 2006. The Report outlined the potential that could be unleashed by the creation of a sustainable culture of volunteerism and active citizenship at all levels in Irish society. But central to the engagement of the ordinary citizen must be the recognition by the nation of the exceptional achievements of its citizens and members of our Diaspora. In recognition of excellence, service and achievement a national benchmarking of positive and active citizenship is created and sustained. The Task Force on Active Citizenship has proposed the introduction of a “National Presidential Citizenship Award” scheme to

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See “Report of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship” (March 2007) http://www.activecitizen.ie

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recognise “outstanding contributions to civic and community life”2 in Ireland. This proposal is to be welcomed as Ireland needs a way of acknowledging individuals who have achieved our respect and gratitude for selfless devotion to good works and causes in our communities and overseas, leaving it to foreign governments and monarchs to honour these Irish citizens is simply a national scandal. Whilst, a scheme like that proposed by the Task Force on Active Citizenship need not require a legislative framework as it would be simply an adult version of the existing Gaisce Awards, is this as far as our republic, unlike others, will go to recognise its meritorious citizens? Other republics, right around the globe, take a bolder and, in many ways, a more mature and confident approach to the recognition of their meritorious citizens. This very issue was highlighted in the Third Progress Report3 by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which looked at the situation in several European republics and the United States of America. It seems that the very astute members of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee were all too keenly aware of the possible public cynicism that could be generated by the introduction of an awards system controlled and operated by politicians. Indeed, the Report quotes from the June 2nd 1937 debate on the Constitution where the issue of “Orders of Merit” was considered and where Mr. William Norton, TD, argued “it often means that the greatest party hack, the greatest “yes-man”, the greatest rubber-stamp in a political party puts out his hand and gets a title in return for that kind of servile loyalty or as a return for a cheque to party funds4” – it maybe that this quotation was the basis for the lack of allparty support for the 1998 proposal by An Taoiseach to introduce an “honours system” for Ireland. But nearly ten years on, this hasn’t deterred An Taoiseach as he continues to advocate the introduction of a system to honour and recognise Irish citizens and indeed, he reiterated this view recently at a function marking professional golfer Pádraig Harrington’s spectacular win at the British Open.

See “Report of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship” (March 2007) – page 19 The Third Progress Report by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, ISBN 0-7076-6161-7 (1998) 4 The Third Progress Report by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, (1998) - page 11
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So what’s all the fuss, any reasonable person may ask. It all stems from our rather turbulent history and the constitutional prohibition5 on the State granting “titles of nobility” – Article 40.2.1 states “Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State” and Article 40.2.2 states “No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government”. The distinction drawn in 1937 between “titles of nobility” and “titles of honour” was, it seems, a deliberate mechanism to allow the State introduce an “honours system”. But besides the possible subtle difference between the Irish language text and the English language text on the issue of nobility, it’s clear that nobody is currently seriously advocating changes in this constitutional situation. Though, the All-Party Oireachtas Committee advocated constitutional change to allow for the President to confer “titles of honour” by amending Article 13 of the Constitution which deals with the powers of the President, because this will require a constitutional referendum it may not be the most appropriate solution and could even be politically divisive. route is preferable. But currently no legislation exists to facilitate such national recognition of meritorious citizens by the State and therefore, the idea of ‘emeritus arms’ is one element included in the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 20066, initiated in Seanad Éireann by Senator Brendan Ryan7 in May 2006. The Bill received its Second Stage reading in the Seanad December 2006 and was withdrawn at the Minister’s request for a detailed examination by the Chairman and Board of the National Library of Ireland. During the two hour long debate it was clear that Senators from all sides of the House were broadly in support of its provisions. The Bill envisaged the State granting coats of arms in lieu of an Irish honours system. This would seem to be more appropriate than conferring honorary degrees or granting the freedom of the city, town or borough. Heraldry is capable of graphically depicting whatever achievement is being recognized. In fact, a coat of arms is also known as an ‘achievement’ – therefore, each meritorious individual would receive a unique Grant of Arms from the Chief Herald of Ireland beautifully presented on vellum. It could recognize place of origin, field or sector of achievement and, more importantly,
Bunreacht na hÉireann (Constitution of Ireland) enacted by the People July 1st 1937 See http://www.oireachtas.ie for the full text of the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006 7 Senator Brendan Ryan of the Irish Labour Party was not re-elected in the 2007 Seanad Éireann General Election on the National University of Ireland Panel.
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This would irreparably damage and ultimately

politicise any system that might emerge from such a process and therefore, the legislative

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the personality of the grantee and therefore, it would be a precious gift from a grateful nation to a citizen and cherished by their family for generations. Ireland has already used heraldry to recognize the close connection between ourselves and the people of the United States by making a Grant of Arms to the late President John F. Kennedy and former President Bill J. Clinton. These coats-of-arms were beautifully painted on vellum and graphically depicted the ancestral connection both men and the families have with the island of Ireland. Other members of Irish vast Diaspora could and should receive such national recognition from the Government of Ireland for services and achievements in their adopted lands in a number of academic, industrial, humanitarian, cultural and other fields. Surely, a beautiful coat-of-arms depicting the great sporting achievements of the Cork City born soccer star, Roy Keane, would be considerably more appropriate than an honorary doctorate from University College Cork. Roy’s family would have the Arms for generations to come and this alone makes the heraldic recognition of meritorious citizens more appropriate in the Irish context. A heraldic award, such as proposed, can be shared with one’s immediate family and, of course, one’s descendants and in this way the spouse or partner of a meritorious citizen is not forgotten nor is their support for the recipient unrecognized. But unfortunately many in Ireland still view heraldry as somewhat alien to the modern world and possibly, inappropriate in a republic. However, heraldry is part of our heritage and indeed, it is much in use throughout our daily lives from the Arms of the State, county councils, sports clubs, colleges and many state agencies. Irish people have a great attachment to heraldic symbolism as seen through the use of family crests and county or provincial crests by the Gaelic Athletic Association and other sports organisations. Heraldry is also in use in many republics, some of our new members of the European Union have such incorporated on their national flags whilst, outside Europe, it’s used extensively in the United States of America and the Republic of South Africa. The latter having a Heraldry Act, a State Herald and a Bureau of Heraldry. The Bill introduced by Senator Ryan in May 2006 intended to provide Ireland with a modern heraldic authority with a sound legislative basis for the delivery of heraldic and vexillological services to individuals, bodies corporate and institutions. The Bill would have repealed the fundamentally flawed Section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997 and
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provided for a range of new services to be offered by the Chief Herald of Ireland, including the long overdue facility for the State to recognise and honour excellence, service and achievement by its citizens in many areas of our national life. Engagement with our republic means properly recognising our meritorious citizens and thereby, assessing our own contribution as individuals to our communities and our nation. About the author:-

Michael Merrigan, FGSI, is the General Secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. He researched and drafted the Genealogy & Heraldry Bill, 2006, which was introduced in Seanad Éireann on May 11th 2006 by Senator Brendan Ryan. He advised Senator Alex White on the National Cultural Institutions (Amendment) Bill, 2008 and is currently advising Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú on legislation to have the 1926 Census released to the public.

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