Maura Healey, the first openly LGBTQ+ Governor of Massachusetts, spoke on Tuesday amidst Ireland's 30-year anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality, as well as the 60th anniversary of US President John F. Kennedy's historic visit to Ireland.
"Our nations are once again 'united by history,' as President Kennedy said; and in our journey together, the doors of freedom have opened wider," Healey said in her address on Tuesday.
Healey spoke of her own Irish roots - her paternal grandparents Jeremiah Healey and Margaret Riordan emigrated from Co Kerry and Co Cork, while her maternal great-grandmother Katherine Tracey emigrated from Ballinasloe, Co Galway as a teen in 1912.
"In 1999, I visited Ballinasloe with my mother and grandmother," Healey said. "My uncle Joe Tracey showed us around the old farmstead, where only the foundation was left standing. I picked up a loose stone, and held onto it; and I’ve kept it with me wherever I’ve lived since, to remind of my foundations.
"Our Irish ancestors left behind everything they knew and worked hard to give us all we would need. I was raised with the values they passed on – taking care of your family; taking responsibility for the welfare of your community; and looking out for those who need a helping hand or a friend to speak up for them.
"I’m grateful for this gift, and I’m awed by the fact that ours is just one of millions of emigrant stories that helped build Massachusetts and America.
"Together they are threads, woven together by time, that form a powerful fabric binding our nations together across an ocean and through history.
"Especially in Massachusetts, where by ancestry, culture, and proximity we claim the closest ties. Maybe that’s also the reason we love politics, as some have said.
"The important thing is, our relationship with Ireland is not one of distant memory or hazy nostalgia. It is rooted in shared values that are deeply relevant to the moment we live in and the challenges we all face. It evolves through the continual exchange of people, ideas, and resources. It’s a living, breathing connection and one that we have a duty to nurture, grow, and use for the good of all our people and indeed for the good of the world.
"There is so much for us to learn from one another, as we work to protect the rights and freedoms we’ve fought so hard for.
"That’s what we are doing this week, in my first trip abroad as Governor."
Today, the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Senator Jerry Buttimer, welcomed H.E. Maura Healey, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Leinster House. Governor Healy then signed the Distinguished Visitors Book before addressing the Seanad. #SeeForYourself pic.twitter.com/WEjScz13m6— Houses of the Oireachtas - Tithe an Oireachtais (@OireachtasNews) June 27, 2023
Healey said the relationship between Massachusetts and Ireland is a "powerful and necessary resource" for her administration's goals of providing opportunity and well-being to the state's people, driving innovation, and being a beacon of human rights, equality, and freedom.
The Governor went on to discuss the importance of the Massachusetts - Ireland partnerships on technology, healthcare, and clean energy.
She continued: "The truth is, we share more than history. We share intellectual firepower nurtured through a passion for education. We share a culture and an infrastructure of strategic partnership built on generations of exchange and growth.
"We share something else as well, and it’s never been more clear. We share the belief that we must move forward together – in fact, we can only succeed – if everyone has the opportunity to exercise their rights, be free from discrimination, reach their full potential, share their talents, and live fully as their true selves.
"That value, too, is the reason I am here – and the reason I am able to be here."
She noted: "We are proud of the role that Massachusetts leaders, like Congressman Richie Neal, along with countless private citizens, have played in fostering peace and justice in Northern Ireland.
"President Biden’s commitment to supporting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is shared widely and deeply in our state. We are proud that one of our own, Joe Kennedy III, is in the role of Special Envoy.
"At the same time, we have been blessed in Massachusetts by Irish people who, as former President Mary McAleese said, 'dedicate their lives to building bridges,' as she did herself."
Healey pointed out that she recently appointed Belfast native Ronnie Millar, the former leader of Boston’s Irish Immigrant Center, as the new Director of Strategic Initiatives in the state's Office for Refugees and Immigrants.
"Massachusetts and Ireland both have taken long journeys toward freedom and equality for all our people," Healey said, "but we have come to be known for our commitment to always doing better and showing a way forward for others.
Healey went on to say that her work is inspired by her "Irish foundations, the deep kindness and fierce passion for freedom that is familiar from the immigrant homes of Massachusetts to the great rooms of state here in Leinster House.
"I am grateful to all those who came before me, and I am grateful for all those who advance our cause today. The movements for gay rights, trans rights, and women’s rights in Ireland are strong, visible, and worthy of our attention and gratitude.
"Together we have come to the point where I can arrive in Ireland as the out governor of Massachusetts and make my first stop a Pride reception last night. I can speak as a guest in the Seanad, and I can sit for dinner afterward with an LGBTQ caucus led by the Cathaoirleach. I can meet later this week with the Taoiseach, elected as a gay man in 2017 with his own immigrant story."
She added: "We know there is more work to be done. I think of the young people today, experiencing a surge of mental health problems – in part due to the pandemic and in part due to hearing the voices of hate rise once again to threaten their futures. We must stand strong for them and never go backwards.
"It was not so long ago, when the story of Irish-American unity, and the story of gay liberation would never have been told together. I'm here to say they are stories of the same people, threads in the same fabric that binds us across time and strengthens us to face the future.
"We stand together at a critical moment in world history. We face big challenges: a pandemic’s long tail, and all the loss and instability it wrought; a climate crisis and its harsh and growing impacts on the most vulnerable communities; humanitarian tragedies and deep inequalities both among and within nations; violent conflict in Europe and the resulting suffering and displacement; and the resurgence across the west of regressive, anti-democratic ideologies being advanced through familiar means of scapegoating and division.
"We must stand together now, not only to celebrate our progress, but to meet these challenges, rise to this moment, and show a better way forward.
"We are stronger in that work, because more of us are able to contribute our whole selves to the effort.
"Let us never take this achievement for granted and let us always work to open the doors of freedom wider."