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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Irish-American Comments on Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Dan Rooney, US Ambassador to Ireland
“It is with sorrow that I report on the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Senator Kennedy was not only a great American statesman, but a good friend of mine and of Ireland and its people.

“Senator Kennedy was a true advocate of health care, especially for children. He was committed to the idea that everyone should have access to health care.

“He was a giant in furthering legislative resolutions for people in need, among not only his own constituents, but also among the people of Ireland.

“Since his early days in the Senate, Ted Kennedy was active in the Northern Ireland peace process. He introduced resolutions condemning all violence in Northern Ireland, expressing support for the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and the blueprint for lasting peace.

“Senator Kennedy was an instrumental supporter of Barack Obama's candidacy for the office of President of the United States. He continued that support after President Obama was elected.

“My deepest sympathies go out to Senator Kennedy's wife, Victoria, and the entire Kennedy family. He will be sincerely missed for his active role in legislation and for his concern for the needy.”

Carol Wheeler, Irish Liaison for Obama Presidential Campaign
“Irish Americans have special reason to celebrate the incredible life of Senator Edward Kennedy for his heart most surely was that of an immigrant’s great-grandson who never forgot the wonder of what is possible in America. He fought tirelessly on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens (including our newest) to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to realize their dreams. Our country is a better place because he won so many of those fights.

“He also used his extraordinary political skills to play a pivotal role in the resolution of the Irish ‘Troubles’. In addition to providing policy and diplomatic guidance that helped end the violence, he was unfailing in his support of on-the-ground efforts aimed at reconciliation and community-building. I remember a hot July day in Washington many years ago and a Senator who came home early from work to preside over a backyard cook-out for boys and girls who were spending the summer with Project Children. He was a buoyant host, clearly relishing the mix of Protestant and Catholic kids from Northern Ireland – ‘enemies’ at home – splashing side by side in his pool and sharing jokes at the picnic tables.

“We can be sure that this sad week has brought back many memories of that happy day in places like Belfast, Armagh and Derry. And that Senator Kennedy’s young guests – now adults with families of their own – are saying a quiet ‘thank you’ not only for a great party but for the peace that has come to their communities.

Trina Vargo, President, US-Ireland Alliance
“Senator Kennedy s commitment to Ireland and Northern Ireland spanned forty years and no one has contributed more to the strengthening of the relationship between the US and the island of Ireland. He encouraged me to create the US-Ireland Alliance and everyone at the Alliance is grateful for the continuous support he gave to the organization and the Mitchell Scholarship program. Personally, he gave me, at a very young age, an incredible opportunity to be a part of making a difference in a way that few people get. I told him when I left his employ that, no matter what I did with the rest of my life, the way that I see things would, to a very great extent, be shaped by the way that I learned to see things by working with him. And for that I feel honored and privileged -- but most of all I feel incredibly lucky -- that he allowed me to be a part of his work.”

Brian O’Dwyer, Chair, Emerald Isle Immigration Center
“I first met Ted Kennedy in 1963. I was a freshman at the George Washington University in Washington DC and was eager to intern with the recently elected Senator from Massachusetts. Armed with a letter of introduction from my father I sought the coveted internship for the newest star of the Kennedy family.

“I was not disappointed. The work of intern is mundane, but I did learn the workings of a Senate office by just being there. An added bonus was that Sen. Kennedy would always take time to have a kind word with us. I remember that he would always know who we were and would ask us about our lives.

“In 1999, my wife and I endowed the Paul O'Dwyer lecture on political ethics at the George Washington University. My father was deep admirer of Ted Kennedy and was an early supporter of his failed quest for the Presidency. It was Ted Kennedy who left Capitol Hill and traveled to the campus to pay tribute to the work of his friend Paul O'Dwyer. His words were as always eloquent, but it was his gesture in making himself available in spite of a hectic schedule that will always make me deeply grateful.

“He was disappointed that his immigration bill did not get passed. I remember him coming to me and saying, “Take a look at the bill Brian, I sure took care of the Irish” He never forgot a friend or an enemy, but constantly strived to make sure bridges were built and gaps overcome. He profoundly influenced my life and an entire generation of Irish Catholics. We will not see the like of him again.”

James Lamb, President, Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh
“When Pittsburgh was on its back in 1983, the steel mills were closing and the mill towns along the three rivers were dying, and the ranks of poverty swelled across Western Pennsylvania, guess who came to listen, to understand, and to help. Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts. He taught me that poverty knows no boundary and our only hope to combat it is to educate the poor child and re-train the dislocated worker.

“Ten years later, as I began to serve the disadvantaged populations of Ireland, North and South, it was no surprise to find out that the too had a champion in Ted Kennedy. May he rest in peace.”

Michael Quinlin, Irish Americans for Obama/Biden
“Like everything he did in his political career, Senator Ted Kennedy sought to understand and master the nuances of Northern Ireland’s political, economic and cultural complexities.

“He wielded a full arsenal of insight, passion and wisdom, along with personal convictions and personable skills to help create an environment for negotiation in Northern Ireland. He dispatched his sister Jean Kennedy Smith and talented staff members from his office to the Clinton Administration, and they helped President Bill Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell jumpstart and then solidify the peace process.

“Just as he reached across the aisle in Congress, Senator Kennedy reached across the community divide in Northern Ireland to bring everyone into the conversation for peace. He picked up the phone frequently to ensure that party leaders in Northern Ireland stayed the course in their search for a lasting resolution.

“Senator Kennedy’s optimism, can-do attitude and desire to reach common ground exemplify the best characteristics of Irish-American involvement in Northern Ireland in our lifetime.”

Bruce Morrison, former US Congressman (CT), Chairman, Morrison Public Affairs Group
I first met Ted Kennedy up close in 1982 when he came to campaign for me in the closing days of my first Congressional campaign. It was quite an honor and a thrill—to have him whip up the crowd in a filled-to-the-rafters church on the New Haven Green—and a humbling experience to try to follow him to the podium. But it was at that moment that I truly believed in the upset victory that was to come a few short days later. Much has been said about Ted’s can-do sprit for his own work, but at least as important is the fact that his encouragement and his optimism gave strength to all who worked with him

In the years to come, we were to work on many things together, bankruptcy reform to protect union contracts, immigration reform to make the laws fairer and more generous, and a visa for Gerry Adams to kick-start the peace process. When working with Ted Kennedy on a project, the question was always the best way to get it done, not who would get the credit. Some call them “Morrison visas”, but without Ted Kennedy there would have been no such visas at all.

In the itemizing of Ted’s lifetime of legislative achievements, the Immigration Act of 1965 gets scant mention. And some have criticized that law for having undercut an Irish advantage in the allocation of visas. But as a veteran of immigration fights over the past quarter century, I can say that this early piece of work—just two years into his Senate career—is one of his greatest contributions to the strength of America. Before 1965, the ability to immigrate to America depended on where you were born, with natives of some parts of the world, like China, Japan and Africa being virtually barred. Since 1965, the hope of coming to America can exist in every land and the creation of the earth’s first “universal nation” built on belief in the American Dream, not ethnicity, has taken root. There could be no prouder achievement, yet it is just one of many for the career of Ted Kennedy.