Tá mé buíoch as an seans seo a fháil chun mo ómós a ghabháil do Mháire Mac Giolla Íosa. Mar an t-ochtú Uachtarán ar an dtír seo ar feadh ceithre bhliana deag, tá Máire Mac Giolla Íosa tar éis bheith inspioráideach.
Anseo ag a baile agus thar lear, bhíomar riamh bródiúl as ucht obair Máire Mac Giolla Íosa. Is Uachtarán í Máire Mac Giolla Íosa a bhí ciallmhar agus neamhspleách sa phost. Is toisc sin a bhfuil áit speisialta aici i gcroíthe muintuir na hÉireann.
Thug sí seirbhís dhílis don náisíun seo. Níl aon dabht agam ach bheidh áit onórach i stair na tíre seo sna blianta amach romhainn.
Article 15.1.2 defines that the Oireachtas consist of the President and of Dáil and Seanad Eireann.
It is therefore appropriate that we take time here today in Dáil Éireann to pay tribute to Mary McAleese on this, her last day in office.
As Ireland’s eighth President, she has done an outstanding job and represented this country fantastically well for fourteen years.
It is said that a week is a long time in politics. Fourteen years is a significant and lengthy period, in any person’s life and it is an extraordinarily long time to dedicate oneself to the role of Ireland’s first citizen.
Mary McAleese is one of only four Presidents – alongside Sean T.O’Kelly, Eamon deValera and Patrick Hillery – to serve two full terms in office.
It is fair to say during this lengthy period, every day at home and abroad, Mary McAleese has been a President that has made the Irish people proud. And she has carried out her duties wisely and independently, motivated only by her overwhelming commitment to serve the Irish people.
For the skill and warmth President McAleese has shown throughout her long tenure in Aras an Uachtarain, she rightly enjoys a special place in the hearts of the Irish people.
Her service to this nation has been immense and her legacy is one of extraordinary public service.
We are blessed in this country that each of the people who have held the role of Uachtarain na hEireann have distinguished themselves and the office they have held in trust for the people.
The fact that, I believe, history may well record Mary McAleese as our finest president underlines the ability she has shown in her time in office.
I believe our country has truly benefited from Mary McAleese’s presidency and the contribution she and Senator McAleese have made to Irish society since 1997 has been superb.
Her Presidency will forever be synonymous with the cause of peace. This is appropriate because Mary McAleese was our first President to be born in the North. Indeed, she is our first President to hail from the historic province of Ulster.
From the outset, she put reconciliation at the heart of her presidency.
She sought election under the theme of ‘building bridges’ and it has been a theme that she has delivered upon spectacularly.
It is important to say that this was no easy task.
When Mary McAleese set out on the journey of reconciliation that would define her presidency, the Good Friday Agreement was not in place and many people were sceptical that she would be able to deliver on her pledge to improve relations on this island and with the neighbouring island.
Her work and her achievements in peace-building is a credit to her perseverance, her warmth and her political skills and judgement.
President McAleese was assisted every step of the way in the work of promoting peace and reconciliation by her husband, Martin.
It is appropriate today to acknowledge also his energy, determination and wisdom in extending the hand of peace and friendship to so many.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I had the pleasure of working closely with President McAleese and Senator Martin and I know how valuable the work they have done has been and will prove to be for the development of a shared Ireland beyond conflict.
I was especially struck by the work they did to listen, to understand and to reach out to people in the loyalist community. Many of these people prior to Mary McAleese’s presidency may have had ingrained suspicions or worse about people on this side of the border.
The President has done so much to foster understanding and trust across this island. Hers has truly been a healing Presidency for which we and all future generations will be grateful.
On behalf of the entire Fianna Fáil organisation and all our members, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank President Mary McAleese for her tremendous public service on behalf of the people on the island of Ireland.
Many people say the Presidency is above politics. That is not the case. It is a highly political office but it is removed from party politics.
As a party, Fianna Fáil were proud to nominate Mary McAleese and to campaign vigorously for her election in 1997.
But we are prouder still of the integrity, independence and impartiality that the President has shown in her office.
Taking the oath of office on November 11th, fourteen years ago, Mary McAleese pledged to “maintain the constitution of Ireland” and to dedicate her “abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland.” The President has faithfully kept that promise.
The Presidency belongs to the people and Mary McAleese by her actions has been the people’s President.
She has been inclusive and open and she is someone that people from all political affiliations – and none – can share pride in and look to for inspiration.
I want to mention also that during the downturn in this country, the President has been a voice for community values, civic spirit and solidarity. She has travelled the length and breadth of the country meeting people and supporting community projects. She has shone a spotlight on marginalised groups and it is no surprise that one of the final things she will do today as President is to support the homeless people in our capital.
During my time as Minster for Foreign Affairs, I on many occasions had the honour of representing Ireland abroad with President McAleese. I can readily testify that as an ambassador for our country she was passionate and effective. On trade missions, the President would come into her own and her presence and her diplomatic skills have, I believe, helped secure investment and jobs for the people. It is right that that is acknowledged.
For many people, the highlight of the President’s two terms was the visit of the British Monarch to our shores in March. This was the culmination of President McAleese’s long and dedicated work for reconciliation and a visit the President had hoped would happen for many years.
I think the credit belongs to the President and also to the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who had the courage to back his analysis that such a visit was desirable as “part of the normal courtesies enjoyed by friendly, neighbouring states.”
We cannot ignore our history and our long interaction with Britain, nor should we deny people in Northern Ireland the right to identify themselves as being British or Irish or both.
What is especially positive from Queen Elizabeth’s visit is the further transformation of relationships between Ireland and Britain as another major step in the journey of reconciliation.
President McAleese has our enduring gratitude for the role she has played in this regard.
If the visit of the British Queen was a happy day in Mary McAleese’s presidency, there were also dark days when our people drew solace from the President and the articulate way in which she lifted spirits, expressed our collective hurt and captured the national mood.
I still remember vividly the manner and dignity in which the President conducted herself in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing as well as the powerful interview she gave following September 11th.
For so many people, the Presidency of Mary McAleese has meant so much in so many different ways.
Today, I want to conclude by extending my genuine very best wishes to our incoming President Michael D Higgins while also thanking Mary McAleese for her distinguished service to this nation.
The President has worked tirelessly and diligently on the people’s behalf and we all wish her well in her new life as a private citizen.
As well as extending my gratitude to President McAleese and Martin, I also want to acknowledge the President’s children, Emma, Sara-Mai and Justin.
I wish all of the McAleese family success, continued health and happiness in life beyond the gates of the Aras.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.