The Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad recognizes Irish people doing good around the world

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, T.D., has revealed the 12 recipients of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2019.

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The Presidential Distinguished Service Award was established by the Irish Government following the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum as a means to recognize the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora, and the first awards were made in 2012.

Announcing the recipients of the award, the Tánaiste said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity once again this year to formally recognize the achievements of some of the finest members of our global family, our diaspora.

“The contribution of the Irish Abroad, in so many countries and in so many ways has been immense, and the range of their experiences and the contributions they have made can be seen in the diversity of this year’s award recipients.

“In their own separate ways, each of these individuals have made a remarkable contribution to Ireland and our international reputation. I am deeply grateful for their service and commitment to this country.

“This is the eighth year in which recipients have received this Award, and the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards remains a very important opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to realizing Ireland’s place as an island at the center of the world."

Ciarán Cannon T.D., Minister for Diaspora Affairs and International Development, added: “As Minister of State for the Diaspora, I am proud that we recognize all that our diaspora have done and continue to do. These twelve people show the remarkable diversity of Ireland’s reach in the world and signify the breadth and richness of our diaspora. The recipients include those working with the most marginalized and vulnerable, those who have become the voice for those who have none.

“A total of 189 nominations were considered for the awards this year, and the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated are outstanding.”

The Awards will be presented on November 21, 2019, by President Michael D. Higgins.

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad is neither an honors system nor does it confer any legal entitlements upon the recipients. To be considered eligible for the award, individuals must have:

  • have rendered distinguished service to the nation and/or its reputation abroad; 
  • have actively and demonstrably contributed to Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad in at least one of the categories listed above;
  • have a track record of sustained support and engagement with Ireland and/or its international reputation and/or Irish communities abroad over a period of not less than 5 years;
  • or have given sustained and distinguished service on a global or international issue of importance.

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Category:  Arts, Culture and Sport

Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly (US)

The Irish Repertory Theatre, founded by Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly, makes a remarkable contribution to the cultural life of New York City and does so with Irish and Irish American works. Most of their productions are reviewed by the New York Times, underlining Ireland’s artistic contribution to the city.  The Irish Repertory Theatre has a loyal following and attracts audiences of approximately 50,000 each year.

Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly, deserve recognition for building and maintaining, Ireland’s reputation in the United States through the arts, for over three decades. The Repertory Theatre works with Irish writers and Irish actors and gives them access to the City and is now helping to get Irish productions and performers to move beyond New York to reach new locations.

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Ian Gibson (Spain)

Ian Gibson, born in Dublin in 1939, is a distinguished author, historian, scholar, and broadcaster who has lived most of his life in Spain. Ian was an early and committed Irish-European.  His passion for the work of Joyce and Beckett, who remain a strong influence on him, were matched by an early interest in the world outside Ireland and by writers such as Proust and García Lorca. 

Ian’s peers attest to the high quality of his scholarship and his talents as a writer. Ian’s work on the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca is considered to be essential reading, an indispensable reference for all who have an interest in the work, life and times of this poet. Ian’s work on other literary, creative figures such as Darío, Machado, Dalí, and Buñel is also praised, as are his insightful contributions to the debate in Spain on democratic transition.

Ian’s national identity has always mattered to him, as has his Spanish citizenship which he gained in 1984. He speaks often of the links and similarities between the Irish and the Spanish and, as much as Ian Gibson has been embraced and adopted by Spain, he has never stopped being an Irishman. 

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Category:  Business and Education

Paul Drechsler (Britain)

Paul Drechsler, originally from Dublin, moved to Britain in 1978. Paul worked for Imperial Chemical Industries for 25 years (1978-2003) before moving as Chairman and Chief Executive to Wates Group, a family-owned construction firm. Since 2013 he has been Chair of the Bibby Line Group and, since 2015, President of the Confederation of British Industry.

Paul has been very active in support of Irish business networks. Paul is Chair of Teach First, a social enterprise which addresses educational disadvantage in England and Wales by persuading the best and brightest of graduates to teach for two years at the start of whatever career they may ultimately follow.

Paul Drechsler has also been a very helpful interlocutor for the Irish Government during and in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Paul has won many awards, including in 2015 an Honorary CBE in recognition of his accomplishments in business and services to the construction industry.

Michael Kenneally and Rhona Richman Kenneally (Canada)

Dr. Michael Kenneally and Dr. Rhona Richman Kenneally, working in tandem, have dedicated much of their lives to promoting Irish educational interests in Canada, most notably through the foundation of the School of Irish Studies in Concordia University, Montreal. The success of the School is attributable to the leadership and strategic vision of Michael and Rhona, and their commitment to the promotion of sustained excellence in Irish studies.

Michael and Rhona through their endeavors have made the School a resounding success and an important part of the Montreal community. The School seeks to showcase modern Ireland programmes in Irish Studies at Concordia, and typically focusses on Ireland’s rich history, culture, and the Irish abroad.  The School of Irish Studies in Concordia was also the first School in Canada to offer degree courses as a major and now has many postgraduate students studying for masters and Ph.D. degrees.

Rhona and Michael are also an integral part of the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation, which was created to finance the study and teaching of Irish and Irish Canadian history and culture at Concordia University. Since its creation in 1995, the Foundation has raised 7 million dollars in donations. Through the Foundation, the School of Irish Studies is able to offer a range of scholarships (including 13 fully-funded scholarships) and endowments to prospective students, while (crucially) maintaining its independence within the University.

Dr. Michael Kenneally has been a leading contributor to the Irish community in Montreal over the last 40 years. He served as Ireland’s Honorary Consul General in Montreal since 2002, he is a former President of St Patrick’s Society, the leading Irish-Canadian organization in the city, dating back to 1834 and over the years, he has provided support and guidance to many other organizations in Montreal. 

Dr. Rhona Richman Kenneally is a Professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, and a Fellow of the School of Irish Studies.  Rhona’s academic credentials are transdisciplinary, namely degrees in literature and social history, plus a professional degree and Ph.D. in architecture. She is the editor of the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies.  She has been central in establishing the transdisciplinary focus of the School, in terms of its courses, conferences, and professors: this multidisciplinary profile is perhaps the most innovative feature of the School’s reputation, vis-à-vis Irish studies offerings at other universities.  They are richly deserving of recognition for their joint efforts to strengthen and reimagine the landscape of Irish Studies.

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Category:  Charitable Works

Fr. Patrick Clarke (Brazil)

Fr. Patrick Clarke, from Dublin, is a Spiritan missionary who has worked for the past forty years with the most vulnerable, impoverished and invisible members of Brazilian society. Fr. Patrick Clarke lives and works in Vila Prudente, one of the oldest communities (or ‘favelas’) in Sᾶo Paulo.

Fr Patrick Clarke has had a profoundly positive impact on the residents’ lives collaborating with them in claiming their rights to a better infrastructure, sewage system, running water while also working against discrimination, violence, and unemployment.

Fr. Patrick Clarke recognized the central role which education plays in liberating people from poverty and oppression and helped to establish a community cultural center, providing young people with the opportunity to cultivate their creativity through art and music classes. Fr. Pat’s remarkable contribution to the lives of many Brazilians is part of the long history of Irish missionaries across Brazil, often in isolated, remote parts of the country.

Bernard Lynch (Britain)

Bernard Lynch moved from Ireland and served first as a missionary in Africa. Bernard moved to the United States in the 1970s where he served as a chaplain to Dignity/NY (for LGBT Catholics). When AIDS hit in 1981 Bernard Lynch ministered to many hundreds of those feared and shunned even by their own families at the time.  Bernard stood up for equal justice for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.

Bernard Lynch spent over twenty years in New York City before moving to London, where he has worked on HIV/Aids issues since 1992. He was a founding Co-Chair of the London Irish LGBT group.

In 2013, Bernard Lynch was the first appointee by The Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Advisory Board to represent the Irish in London LGBT community. Bernard’s task was to assist in changing the perception of the LGBT community and to ensure LGBT representation was sensitively included in the St. Patrick’s Parade and Festival. As a result of Bernard’s contribution, the LGBT community today is fully integrated into London’s St. Patrick’s Festival.

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Category:  Irish Community Support

Jackie Donohoe (US)

Jackie Donohoe, mother of Ashley Donohoe one of the six students who died in the 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse, directed her incredible energy, drive, and determination to ensure that such a tragedy would not befall any other family in California. Six Irish / Irish- American students were killed and a further seven suffered life-changing injuries as a result of this tragedy.

In the years since, Jackie organized a highly impactful and successful lobbying effort to make substantial changes to California building regulations regarding balconies. To achieve this, Jackie conducted significant research, attended multiple meetings of the California Building Regulation Commission and Committees in the California State Legislature and met with key politicians in California.

Last year, two major pieces of legislation were passed with bipartisan support in the California legislature and were subsequently signed into law by Governor Brown. Taken together, the two pieces of legislation amount to a significant improvement of the regulations involved in building and reporting on accidents in California.

Throughout the process, Jackie embraced and exhibited the awful pain of losing a daughter, while always making thoughtful, rational and forceful arguments that ultimately won the day. The 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse was a moment of national tragedy and of great personal tragedy for the families of those involved. Jackie Donohoe’s determination and perseverance in making improvements to California building regulations has given enormous service, not only to the Irish community, but to all Californians.

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Category:  Peace, Reconciliation, and Development

Sally O’Neill Sanchez (deceased) – Honduras)

Sally O’Neill Sanchez from Co. Tyrone traveled to South America on completion of a course specializing in nutritional studies where a chance encounter with Trócaire staff working in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon convinced her that she had at last found her true vocation.

In the late 1970s, Sally led Trócaire’s humanitarian response in Latin America.  Sally ensured that Irish political and religious figures understood the root causes of the humanitarian crisis in Central America and organized visits to Central America by Irish politicians and bishops. She worked closely with key figures in the struggle for human rights and justice in Central America, including Archbishop Romero in El Salvador.

Sally was central to the international exposure of the massacre of civilians in El Mozote in El Salvador in 1982 where she traveled with President Michael D. Higgins – then a T.D. She subsequently wrote a report which was widely published in the US media.

In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Sally O’Neill Sanchez worked in Ethiopia and Somalia, responding to famine in both countries. She subsequently continued her work in Latin America, focusing on supporting marginalized communities and organizations in their struggle for peace, justice, and human rights.

After her retirement, Sally continued to support communities and individuals across Latin America to build fair transparent and accountable communities, societies and nations. 

Sally O’Neill Sanchez was awarded the Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award in 2011 for outstanding humanitarian work. In 2012 President Higgins appointed Sally to the selection panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad. Since 2015 she was a member of the Board of Directors of  WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America). In 2017 Sally was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Law degree by the University of Ulster. Sally lectured in Development Studies in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras in Tegucigalpa until her untimely death in April 2019.

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Category:  Science Technology and Innovation

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Britain)

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, born in Northern Ireland, is a world-renowned astrophysicist, whose discovery of radio pulsars in 1967, is considered to be one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the twentieth century. The discovery was recognized by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, though Professor Bell Burnell was not one of the recipients of the prize.

Since then Professor Bell Burnell has worked in many branches of astronomy in a number of capacities. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003, a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2005 and was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004. Professor Bell Burnell was President of the Institute of Physics from 2008 to 2011.

Professor Bell Burnell has worked at a number of UK universities during her long career. She is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and in February 2018 was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee.

Professor Burnell is an inspiring role model for young students and female scientists throughout the world. In 2018, Professor Bell Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.

William Howlett (Tanzania)

Since the 1980s, Dr. William Howlett, an Irish doctor, has conducted internationally-acclaimed work as a medical researcher in northern Tanzania. He has done this often under difficult conditions and without seeking any gain for himself. He has contributed greatly to the study of the science of neurology in Africa as well as helping to bring relief from suffering to countless people.

Dr. Howlett is particularly noted internationally for his groundbreaking research on the neurological elements of HIV/AIDS and their manifestations in the African context, as well as for his meticulous work with the debilitating neurological disease Konzo which he himself identified.

Dr. Howlett has worked tirelessly with the local community within local medical structures to establish and enhance medical training and facilities for Tanzanian students, and to train local doctors to succeed him. In this context, he has made his 'Neurology in Africa' textbook - the first major textbook on medicine in Africa for many years - available free online for use by medical personnel continent-wide. In his humble, unassuming way, he has also inspired hundreds of young Tanzanian physicians, helping each to identify their own strengths and in so doing, to achieve their potential.

The scheme is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a High-Level Panel was established to make recommendations to Government.  This Panel includes: Mr. Niall Burgess, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Chair), Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach; Mr. Art O’Leary, Secretary General to the President; and four representatives from the non-Government sector.   However, as a result of the sudden death of one of the President’s High-Level Panel representatives, only three external members sat on this year’s High-Level Judging Panel. Nominations were made by Irish communities abroad through Ireland’s network of Diplomatic Missions.