The U.S.-Ireland Forum got off to a good start when Dr. Hugh Brady, President of University College Dublin, announced that funding had been obtained to assist the university in establishing an International Center to support the global Irish family. This was his address:
Today there is unprecedented interest in the Irish and the Irish Diaspora, Over 80 million identify themselves with Ireland, and one of the questions today is, why is that? There are several reasons. There is a collective pride in the achievements of the global family; peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland; the outstanding business success of Irish America and the Irish in Britain; the wonderful reputation enjoyed by Irish artists and culture from Joyce to Bono, Flatley, Heaney and so many more.
There is a flip side. There is concern about the future of the global Irish family and that is the focus of much of this forum. I put it to you that there is a set of relationships under strain, there is a need to redefine the mission and there is a need to energize the next generation of leaders.
It is my contention that Ireland does not understand Irish America and its contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process and the current economic success. Possibly even more worrying is that Ireland thinks it does. Secondly that Irish America, who probably feel that they understand Ireland better than the Irish themselves, may feel that their contribution has been under appreciated. In fact because of its own success Irish America is at risk of becoming almost an invisible ethnic group. Finally, collectively we may underestimate the shared values that underpin the bond that is Irishness and the potential of the global Irish family to address and influence the major social issues of our time.
As university president what can a university do? We have seen it as a priority at UCD to establish an International Center, a hub focused on the challenge and support of the global Irish family. The core themes of history, heritage, and culture will be addressed, but also contemporary themes like peace and reconciliation, human rights, migration, diversity, global citizenship, global Ireland and the developing world. This should be a well-visited center with students, scholars, and professors from the Diaspora coming and challenging each other and coming up with solutions.
One of Ireland’s most successful developers, Pat Doherty, has made a very significant gift to launch the fundraising campaign for this institute. The only condition was that the institute be known as the John Hume Institute for Irish Studies. A wonderful gesture as we approach the ten-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, and a wonderful tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest statesman. I see this activity as being crucial. I put this question to you: In ten or fifteen years time, will the global Irish family be a historical curiosity, or an agent for change? I hope that the collective presence here today share the desire that the Irish Diaspora goes from strength to strength and becomes that agent for change through this forum and other actions like it.