At a special meeting of Cork City Council held on the 20th June 2008, the Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred on Mr. Albert Reynolds and Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH.
Pictured above are the new Freemen receiving their Freedom Caskets from Lord Mayor Cllr. Donal Counihan with City Manager, Joe Gavin and Senior Executive Officer, Paul Moynihan.Speech delivered by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Donal Counihan conferring the Freedom of the City of Cork on Mr Albert Reynolds and the Right Hon. Sir John Major KG CH
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, you are invited here today as witnesses to the granting of the Freedom of the City of Cork on two Statesmen who, despite the prevailing political climate at the time, started, with the Downing Street Declaration, a process which has led to the establishment of a lasting democratic solution in Northern Ireland equally respectful of the hopes and aspirations of both communities.
The great American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy had much to say on the issue of diplomacy and negotiation, the most appropriate of which was his advice
Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
It is clear that consciously or unconsciously today’s recipients took these words very much to heart. They may also have heeded his advice that
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction
Bestowing the Freedom of the City is not something that is entered into lightly and it stands to reason that the person or persons to whom this award is given must be exceptional or have achieved greatness in some particular field. I think all would agree that today’s recipients fit those criteria.
Is oiriúnach an rud é gurb sa foirgneamh galánta seo, Halla na Ceolchoirme i Halla na Cathrach anso I gCorcaigh a tógadh i 1936 as cúiteamh cogaigh i ndiadh cogadh na saoirse, go bhfuil an ócáid seo ag titim amach. Cuireann sé comhtheacs ar leith ar a bhfuil bainte amach ag an mbeirt atá á ceiliúradh inniu again.
The people we honour here today, Mr Albert Reynolds and the Right Honourable Sir John Major, we do so on your behalf, as a mark of our gratitude for their contribution and our appreciation of their resolute determination that future generations of Irishmen and women should not be blighted by the fear and hopelessness that threatened to be the future of yet another generation in the island of Ireland.
In doing so they took significant personal and political risks for a greater good, a just and lasting peace. Many before had tried and failed, many afterwards sat through tortuous and sometimes insurmountable objections, false starts, resistance and grandstanding to achieve what we as citizens of the Republic and elsewhere in the world take all too often for granted, the right of all of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own political and economic future. Many would say they were brave to do so, but courage and bravery are not the same thing. To quote the American essayist and writer Mark Twain ,
courage is not the absence of fear
it is the resistance to and mastery of it.
The easier option of course would have been to take the view that centuries of history between our countries could not be solved by any individual ,no matter how well intentioned but history would not have forgiven such lack of purpose .The history of both our nations, and of the world, is rich with the inspiration of individuals who refused to take the easy option but the words I found most suited to today’s occasion come not from a king, chieftain, general or poet but from an American author, activist and opponent of war. She was the first deaf blind person to graduate from University .
Her name was Helen Keller and she wrote:
I am only one
but I am still one
I cannot do everything
but I can do something
I will not refuse to do something I can do
It is difficult for us now, some decade and a half later, to remember the context and atmosphere in which the Downing Street Declaration was framed but with your indulgence I will read from the twelfth and to my mind most encompassing of the agreed text :
The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister are determined to build on the fervent wish of both their peoples to see old fears and animosities replaced by a climate of peace. They believe the framework they have set out offers the people of Ireland, North and South, whatever their tradition, the basis to agree that from now on their differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by peaceful political means. They appeal to all concerned to grasp the opportunity for a new departure.
That step would compromise no position or principle, nor prejudice the future for either community. On the contrary, it would be an incomparable gain for all. It would break decisively the cycle of violence and the intolerable suffering it entails for the people of these islands, particularly for both communities in Northern Ireland.
It would allow the process of economic and social cooperation on the island to realize its full potential for prosperity and mutual understanding. It would transform the prospects for building on the progress already made in the Talks process, involving the two Governments and the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland.
The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister believe that these arrangements offer an opportunity to lay the foundations for a more peaceful and harmonious future, devoid of the violence and bitter divisions which have scarred the past generation. They commit themselves and their Governments to continue to work together, unremittingly, towards that objective.
We now know of course that this resolve proved vitally important to subsequent efforts and culminated with the Good Friday Agreement which has led to the establishment of a working, lasting democratic solution in Northern Ireland equally respectful of the hopes and aspirations of both communities.
U.S. Senator George Mitchell, a former recipient of Freedom of Cork expressed the wish at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement that some day he would like to attend with his son, who was just child at the time, a meeting in Stormont discussing the ordinary mundane business of a democracy.
He can do so now at any time of his choosing thanks to the foundation laid by today’s worthy recipients of the Freedom of the City of Cork
Gabhaimid buíiochas díbh ar an éacht atá deanta agaibh ar mhaithe na ghlúine seo agus na ghlúin atá le teacht
Go raibh maith agaibh
Cllr Donal Counihan, Lord Mayor of Cork
The new Freemen are shown with the Lord Mayor and Poet Tom McCarthy admiring a framed edition of the poem by Thomas McCarthy,who composed and recited the poem that he was commissioned to write for the Freedom ceremony.