Irish Americans such as Chuck Feeney and Donald Keough have had a more positive transformative impact in Ireland than generations of politicians there.
That was the main point I made in my speech accepting the Tip O’Neill Donegal Diaspora award in Buncrana last night before 400 people. I stated that I believed there are many other Don Keoughs and Chuck Feeneys out there in Irish America but the Irish government needs to get serious about identifying them.
It is not enough to just hold occasional Farmleigh Diaspora type meetings, make fine speeches praising the Diaspora and then let it fade until the next meeting. I believe the government should appoint a Minister for the Diaspora charged with identifying the next generation of Chuck Feeneys and Don Keoughs as well as having the minister work seriously on issues such as immigration reform in America which is very important to Irish living there as well as Irish hoping to emigrate legally.
The battle to get America involved in the peace process was very tough but a combination of far-seeing Irish government input and Irish American clout made the intervention of men like Bill Clinton and George Mitchell possible.
We need that same kind of energy and commitment now to issues like Irish American investment and immigration reform he stated. The work of Chuck Feeney and Don Keough were examples of what could be achieved.
Chuck Feeney’s $1.6 billion dollars contribution to Irish universities through Atlantic Philanthropies has meant that they can compete on the world stage and that future generations of Irish students can also compete with the best.
Before Feeney’s grant giving Irish universities lagged badly inresearch and were not equipped to cope in the modern era.
The fact that an unprecedented nine universities jointly honored Chuck Feeney this week shows just how critical his support was to them. In addition Feeney played a critical role in getting President Bill Clinton involved in the Irish peace process and funded the Sinn Fein office in Washington at a time when that organization needed every reassurance that the turn away from militant Republicanism could pay off.
Speaking about Donald Keough, I stated “He and Irish businessman Martin Naughton brought the Notre Dame Game to Ireland with its $150 million spin off for the Irish economy.”
“That game came about because of the Keough/Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame which Don Keough set up in 1993. Now it is the premier Irish Studies program in the United States and indeed world wide.
“But more than that, he established Coca-Cola in Ireland back when the IDA desperately needed major US clients to kick start Ireland’s economic development
“Today he remains a vital resource for Ireland in reaching out to other leading business leaders and discussing investment in Ireland with them,” I said.
I said I believed We needed to identify the next generation of Don Keoughs and Chuck Feeneys in the same way we need to identify the political successors to men like Tip O’Neill who did so much for Ireland.
The Irish government should significantly ramp up its efforts to do so.