Siobhan Dennehy, Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, was the 2010 recipient of the JFK Medal at the AOH & LAOH National Convention in Cincinnati Ohio. She thanked the AOH/LAOH in these words:
I am so very glad indeed to be here this evening to accept this award. And I am especially grateful to Brendan Moore his wife Eileen, Danny O’Connell and their team of colleagues for their invitation to be with you tonight. I know firsthand how much work goes into an event such as this and am truly impressed with the outstanding job everyone has in welcoming me and my family.
I want to thank my family my husband Dan in particular there is a saying that behind every great man there’s a great woman – well here it works in reverse thanks to Dan for being the great man supporting me! My mom Sheila is here tonight from Dublin and my daughters Cara and Ashling – thanks for all your help to make this moment my FPD [favorite part of the day].
I want to pay a particular tribute to the AOH and LAOH membership tonight; by recognizing me with this prestigious national award you have chosen to highlight me as a person for the work I do, the organizations I represent, the staff & board members who help me achieve the work I complete, the clients and community members who seek our help, my own family who work with me and the family who sacrifice much for me. Like many others of my generation I came to this county as a young university student, in my case from Trinity College, with a love of my heritage and culture and yet aware that Ireland’s economy then could not offer me a career opportunity. In New York I discovered a thriving Irish American community which offered me limitless potential. In meeting Dan and his dad (DJ) I came to know the AOH and many of you and part of this award is being accepted in his memory
In receiving an award named for someone else, protocol would dictate that as the recipient you do a little research about that person …there are very few here I’m sure that would argue that John F Kennedy needs any introduction at all and we can agree that he and his family represent a very proud immigrant history.
When President Kennedy arrived at Dublin my home town just over 47 years ago, he expressed, the special pride which he felt in the generosity of the United States over the years to so many immigrants from so many different countries and he also noted on that historic visit to Ireland that everywhere, immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.
Emigration to America represents a new opportunity, and our people by and large, make good lives for themselves here. For many, emigration is never an easy option; but it can be their only option. We know that emigration presents some people with very particular difficulties; they can, for instance, find themselves adrift and marginalized. The people who offer front-line assistance and advice services to the vulnerable Irish provide, therefore, a critically important support structure. The work of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, as well as all the Immigration Centers in the US continue to serve that cause on a daily basis. My pleasure in receiving the JFK Award is heightened by the fact that many centers are now such valued resource for the immigrant community.
There is an expression in the Irish language about co-existence and the importance of community support: is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – we exist in each other’s shelter. The spirit of community service and consideration for others is exemplified by people who receive the JFK Award in the name of the AOH and LAOH.
In his address to the Dail and Senate in 1963 President Kennedy said: Across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies. The context here was in the face of Anglo Irish relations but I ask you all to think about these words and apply them to the US’s immigration policy particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and how that event has changed the face of US Immigration policy.
There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US; some argue that number might be too high; many of us in the context of the challenges facing the Irish ecomony at the moment believe that number is arguably higher.
The reason that they are here in that undocumented capacity is that there are honestly no other options open to them. Since assuming the position of Executive Director EIIC in March of 2003 every year in politics has brought renewed debate on immigration reform and after seven years the challenges are growing immeasurably and we must as a society choose to look at changing the immigration policy in a humane and effective way.
I have been honored to assist the AOH many times in recent years and have received the assistance of many members for which I am grateful. I look to continue to extend the use of our resources and look for the day when legal and secure paths to US immigration will allow future flows of Irish to enjoy the cultural exchange and love for two countries which we all share here tonight.
We have some work to do on immigration reform and I appeal to you and your membership to continue to support on the matter of Immigration in this vision. President Kennedy wrote in 1958 in the book entitled A Nation of Immigrants. And I quote, Immigration policy should be generous, it should be fair, it should be flexible; with such a policy we can turn to the world and to our own past with clean hands and a clear conscience.
In closing, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you all from me as a mother of two daughters to be a female recipient of the JFK Medal Award that I am truly humbled and I assure you that it will inspire me to look for ways to do more for my adopted country going forward
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir