28th Tipperary Conference of Peace - ‘Diversity can be a resource for the common good’ - Senator Martin McAleese

TIPPERARY’S Conference of Peace incorporating the Tipperary Peace Forum and International Song of Peace, was formally opened on Thursday, when former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, and her husband Senator Martin McAleese were jointly honoured with the Tipperary International Peace Award.

TIPPERARY’S Conference of Peace incorporating the Tipperary Peace Forum and International Song of Peace, was formally opened on Thursday, when former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, and her husband Senator Martin McAleese were jointly honoured with the Tipperary International Peace Award.

Former winners include Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Benazir Bhutto. The Awards - now in their 28th year - were instituted by a group of Tipperary people hoping to re-brand the county name, associating it with peace instead of war. People worldwide had only known the name of Tipperary from the famous British Army Marching Song of the Great War: “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”

Host Martin Quinn told guests. “It is hugely appropriate and significant today as many of you have indeed travelled a long way to be with us.

“It is also a very significant year for that same song as this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the writing of the music hall song by Jack Judge in Stalybridge, England on 30th January, 1912.

“Tipperary may be known the world over for that song, which of course is a song that is associated with war and particularly the First World War as it was introduced to the front by soldiers of the Irish Regiments as they made their way to battle but we like to think that modern Tipperary is now known for its efforts to promote peace and peaceful co-operation on a national and international stage.

“You could say that Tipperary has learned from the past in planning for a peaceful future and that it has indeed sowed the seeds of peace for this and for future generations to come.

“It is fitting that the town of Tipperary with its rich history and heritage should be giving an example for all to follow. Thomas Davis, Editor of The Nation newspaper in the 1840’s said that “where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows”. On this occasion and in recognition of Tipperary Peace Conventions 28 year contribution to peaceful co-operation on the world stage I think we could review that and say “where Tipperary leads, Ireland and the world follows”.

“We can say that what Mary and Martin achieved together, with and for communities, was as outstanding as it was bold. It has certainly left relations between the people of this island on a stronger and more confident footing. Their service to the nation has been immense and their legacy is one of extraordinary public service.

“As President, Mary McAleese served the country very well for 14 years. She displayed great warmth, courage, integrity and skill and was a President who reached out to people with a message of inclusivity and bridge building. Her achievements throughout her long tenure in Áras an Uachtaráin have rightfully gained for her a special place in the hearts of the Irish people.

“The same characteristics displayed by Mary have also been displayed by her husband Martin in his own great peace work. Though this peace-building work was done quietly it was nonetheless very significant to the overall picture of complete and lasting peace and all of us have a duty to acknowledge and respect the contribution that he made to the peace process. Martin continues his work in the promotion of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland as an independent member of Seanad Éireann and this was evident this week when the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge, Drew Nelson, at the initial invitation of Senator McAleese, gave a historic address to Seanad Éireann becoming the first member of the Orange Order to address the parliament,” added Mr Quinn.

In a moving speech, Senator Martin McAleese said he had been thrust into the limelight by his wife’s Election in 1997. Senator McAleese recounted how, having grown up in a minority Catholic enclave of East Belfast, he felt cut off and disconnected from his Protestant neighbours.

He had to overcome his own fears and prejudices in dealing with Loyalists during the Peace Process, but the journey towards Peace was a rewarding one. “The legacy of that childhood for me, is a natural instinct to avoid the front row in so many situations, and to seek the anonymity of the back row. I was 20 when our family was forced out of our home in East Belfast.”

Fastforward to 1997, with the Presidential Election. “This involved building bridges, and reaching out to communities all over this island. An important aspect of work was reaching out in hope to communities dominated by Loyalist paramilitaries. A constituency long estranged from the South and Nationalist Ireland.”

Senator McAleese said, as a Catholic from a Nationalist background, his ambition was to live in a secular state, in a united Ireland brought about by democratic politics and persuasion, in the absence of violence and duress.

“By contrast, Loyalists wish to retain the constitutional link with the United Kingdom, and wish to remain free from what they see as domination by the Republic.”

There was a challenge to recognise these differences, while remaining uncritical. “To put the challenge differently, could we find a way of putting aside a past - characterised by two traditions, and two communities - to a future still characterised by two traditions, but only one community? And one community at peace.”

Senator McAleese concluded: “To achieve this, it was necessary to recognise firstly, and then finally accept, our differences, and then to regard that diversity as a resource utilised for the common good.”

The Conference of Peace ran from July 5th to the 8th.