Minister for Foreign Affairs at the George Mitchell Scholarship Programme

Michael Martin’s speech made on Monday 4th October 2010 at University College Cork

A Rang Dhá Mhíle agus a hAon Déag, A Aíonna Speisialta agus a Dhaoine Uaisle: Tá an-áthas orm a beith libh tráthnóna inniu don chomóradh an-speisialta seo.

I am delighted to welcome you all here this evening to join in welcoming the class of 2010/2011 of George Mitchell Scholars as they prepare to commence their studies in universities throughout the island of Ireland.

I would like to thank Trina Vargo, President of the US-Ireland Alliance, for her invitation to address you this evening. I understand that this is the eleventh class of George Mitchell scholars to commence their studies and I want to welcome each one of you to Ireland and, in particular, here to my home city of Cork.

I hope that you will have time to experience some of the many attractions and delights which Cork has to offer during your visit.

Since its creation in 1999, when I myself was Minister for Education and Science, in excess of 120 exceptional US students like yourselves have come to study in all of the universities across the island of Ireland.

I know that we have scholars here this evening representing a range of universities in the United States. I am delighted to see that you have chosen to continue your studies in subjects as diverse as Peace and Conflict Studies, Global Health and Writing in universities across Ireland and Northern Ireland in Dublin, Maynooth, Limerick, Galway, Derry and Belfast.

And although we do not have any Mitchell Scholars attending University College Cork this year, I know that 11 previous scholars have passed through these hallowed halls since the first class of Mitchell scholars began their studies in 2000.

The recently enacted George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 2010 demonstrates in a very practical way the Irish Government’s continued commitment towards this Scholarship programme and, indeed, to strengthening the close economic and cultural ties between the United States and Ireland.

The Irish Government’s decision to increase our endowment to the programme is a clear illustration of our ongoing commitment to strengthening and enhancing the relationship between the US and Ireland.

The US Government has also been generous in providing funding to the Mitchell Scholarship programme over the last number of years which ensured that this prestigious programme continued and further developed its profile.

I also want to acknowledge the financial support given to the Mitchell Scholarship programme by the Northern Ireland Government along with the contributions from private donors.

I welcome this opportunity to celebrate the contribution that the Mitchell Scholarship Programme has made in enabling a new generation of future US leaders to spend some time here in Ireland and in developing and energising the relationships between our two countries.

I would also like to acknowledge the achievements of previous Mitchell Scholars over the past number of years. They have made a valuable contribution through their volunteer work with some of our more disadvantaged communities across the island, as well as assisting those affected by the flooding experienced here in Cork late last year. Others have travelled to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding of communities there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

It is clear that you combine records of high academic achievement with an impressive range of contributions in voluntary, sports and leisure activities.

I am sure that involvement in such activities will also be an important part of your experiences over the coming months . I know that it will add to your own personal development while also contributing to the improvement of the wider community.

This Mitchell Scholarship programme seeks, amongst other things, to instil a life-long interest in and appreciation of Irish culture amongst its scholars.

Ireland has deep-rooted links with the United States. The role played by the US Government, and in particular by Senator George Mitchell, in securing peace in Ireland will never be forgotten by our people.

The vast majority of people on this island now accept that the time for recrimination and violence has passed and that, as a people, we need to focus on developing common and shared approaches to the challenges that we share right across the island.

I strongly believe that such sharing will better enable us continue to prosper as a society, as we now find ourselves grappling with very different, yet equally challenging circumstances to those that prevailed at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements are key instruments in the long process of setting about re-building relationships that had broken down so badly over a long period of time. It is vital that we continue the work of fostering better relationships between all communities if we are to succeed in rebuilding trust and restoring a sense of normality.

It is in this context that we can look to the example of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Ted Kennedy was a proud and long-standing supporter of the US –Irish partnership and worked tirelessly to advance the Northern Ireland peace process and to champion, not just the interests of the Irish community, but the needs of the less well-off and the marginalised in society generally.

These are times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. We face difficult challenges in the fiscal, economic and social spheres. I believe that education is the most important tool we have at our disposal to take on these challenges.

In Ireland, we have one of the youngest and most globalised populations in Europe and we naturally look to education to support peace and prosperity and to help foster a culture of enterprise and innovation.

A reputation for a highly educated and a highly qualified workforce has brought us many benefits over the years with high levels of foreign direct investment into the Irish economy. As we know, the United States has been one of the most important and committed players in this area. US firms have availed themselves of the opportunities that locating here brings in terms of accessing gateways to wider European markets.

Indeed, I would hope that both administrations on the island of Ireland can build closer working relationships that will enhance the promotion of Ireland and Northern Ireland internationally as areas capable of delivering high quality education.

The Government has recently published its five year international education strategy, which sets out how we will enhance our position as a world leader in the provision of international education.

Our goal is to educate, here in Ireland, the next generation of leaders in America, Asia and beyond. The Mitchell class of 2011 will be leaders in your field and we will rely on you to spread the word about Ireland and the benefits of an education here.

The success of the George Mitchell Scholarship programme is part of the legacy of Senator Mitchell’s time here. This programme has already demonstrated that it equips its’ scholars with a unique set of skills and experiences, enabling them to contribute creatively and innovatively to society in many different ways. Ultimately, such contributions aid the development of more peaceful and equitable societies throughout our world.

As I look around me this evening, I know that this is a group of young people with a real eagerness to seize the opportunity to make a positive difference.

You come from diverse backgrounds, cultural traditions and academic disciplines. I know that your time living and studying here in universities, north and south, will equip you all the better to celebrate that diversity and build a trust that transcends traditional boundaries. You will be enabled to build new partnerships and function as leaders in your chosen fields.

I would like to once again welcome you heartily to Ireland and to Cork city. I hope that you will take with you many happy memories of your time here and I wish each and every one of you the very best in your future.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

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