Too many older men were being chosen for the prestigious Irish Presidential Diaspora awards, a former Irish Ambassador to the United States has said.

Winners of Ireland’s presidential awards for the Diaspora are too old and too male former Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson has stated. Her comments were first reported in the Irish edition of The Sunday Times.

The Presidential Distinguished Services Awards are presented to Irish Diaspora achievers at a yearly ceremony in Aras an Uachtarain, the president’s residence. They are the highest Irish state honor.

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Anderson stated in an internal memo released under the Freedom of Information act that attention to gender balance is needed and the current bias towards men “is perhaps not an ideal projection of these awards.” Until 2018, the gender balance ran about 70 percent men. She also commented on the older profile of the winners, calling attention to the “silver haired awardees.”

“Women’s achievements may be more low-key,” she said. “They may be less eager to canvass support for their own nominations; women overall are less likely to have the level of personal wealth that encourages major philanthropy. While the current imbalance may right itself over time, the challenge in the interim is to secure a reasonably balanced gender outcome."

President Michael D Higgins and actor Liam Neeson. Neeson is awarded The Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad, which highlights outstanding work by Irish people living overseas across a range of areas. CREDIT: ROLLINGNEWS.IE

President Michael D Higgins and actor Liam Neeson. Neeson is awarded The Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad, which highlights outstanding work by Irish people living overseas across a range of areas. CREDIT: ROLLINGNEWS.IE

Anderson also stated focus on Irish America was very important. She wrote that she wanted to “emphatically reiterate the importance of securing adequate reflection of the US diaspora in the awards.” She said that with over half of Ireland’s diaspora concentrated in America, it was essential that “at least three or four of the awards be US-based.” (there are usually about ten awards)

“As well as providing validation for our community, this will hopefully encourage and incentivize continuing engagement with the [award],” she said.

Dan Mulhall, Ireland’s present ambassador to the US, stated the nominations were part of the problem calling them “very uneven” with only nine women in 39 nominations from America in 2017.

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Declan Kiberd, Professor of Irish Studies at Notre Dame wanted more geographical diversity.“We may have to cast the net wider in Asia, Africa and South America, looking for not just missionary/medical workers but also for writers and translators.” He said the selection panel was getting “repetitive strain” from considering “the same sort of nominee.”

The advice of the ambassadors and Kiberd was clearly taken in 2018 when among the 2018 winners were writer Edna O’Brien; Limerick-born physicist Margaret Murnane; Brazil-based academic Munira Hamud Mutran; Sister Bridget Tighe, who works with Palestinian refugees in Jordan; Breege McDaid, of Irish Community Care in Merseyside; and Sister Mary Killeen, a Kenyan missionary.

Liam Neeson, William Kennedy the author and Ed Ward of the Milwaukee Irish festival were among others chosen.

Former Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson.