US President, Joe Biden, has been and gone. He was appropriate, empathetic, connected and competent, endearing himself once again to the Irish people – north and south. He delivered a clear message to the prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, to work with the Irish Government to restore political dialogue and to get Stormont functioning again. It is what the people want all over the island of Ireland.
President Biden continued to utter profound words on every leg of his visit. As we hear them reported and repeated, we pick out our own favourites. Sometimes what resonates with us is reflective of what’s going on in our lives. We just might need the leg up and desire a phrase to inspire us. I often write these quotes into the notes in my phone. Then, in an idle moment, I have them to hand. President Biden’s mother, Jean, called him Joey. According to the President, she always said: “Courage is the greatest virtue, because without courage you cannot love with abandon.” This one has gone into the phone.
I love you
I tend to call my children by their full names (Julie, Diarmuid, Philip and Colm) when I think I have something profound or serious to say. They might not think my utterances so necessary, but at least I endeavour to set the tone. I wonder now if there’s anything I say regularly that resonates with my sons and daughter. My own mother, Maria Campion, always encouraged me to: “Throw back your shoulders and walk 10 feet tall.”
Her theory was to feign confidence with posture, and then it would come naturally. When I would protest her strategy as a teenager with words such as, “Everyone will be looking at me,” or, “I can’t do that,” her retort would be, “I’d care a lot about them!”
This was inspiring in itself, because we knew that Mam cared deeply about everyone and was a woman who loved us with abandon. The words we use with our nearest and dearest are important and none more so than the words, “I love you!”
My darling grandson, Ricky, tells me several times every day: “I loves you, Granny.” He melts my heart, and I hope I melt his, too.
Senator Jerry Buttimer’s speech
And so I come to another great mother and special lady, Nancy Buttimer (RIP). She was a champion of equality at a time when it was terribly difficult to speak out for people who endured discrimination. Nancy would have been so proud to listen to her son, Senator Jerry Buttimer, Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, addressing President Joe Biden in the upper house of the Oireachtas last week. She would also be pleased with Ireland; recognising how far we have come in many spheres of our society.
Jerry, in a carefully crafted, emotional speech, complimented Joe Biden on acknowledging the shared story of immigration of Ireland and the US. He referred to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and thanked President Biden and the US for being brokers of peace. Jerry quoted recent words delivered by Joe Biden when speaking about the US: “Our diversity is our greatest strength.” Jerry thanked the President for being one of the first leaders to support marriage equality. He said that Joe Biden’s intervention was a truly transformative moment that changed the narrative around marriage equality and also demonstrated his respect for diversity.
Addressing President Biden, Jerry said: “In your infamous Meet the Press interview with David Gregory in 2012, you framed the debate as a simple proposition; who do you love and will you be loyal to that person? With this statement, Mr President, you held aloft your respect for diversity – and others followed.”
Jerry showed off his wedding ring saying that his husband, Conchobar Ó Laoghaire, was present and he thanked the Irish people for their generosity in supporting the referendum.
There were many soundbites and inspirational goals mooted during the visit, from ensuring ongoing peace in our country to championing diversity. We all have a part to play in promoting harmony and respect for difference in our homes. That spreads to our schools, our working environments, community gatherings and beyond.
We want people to be content and fulfilled in their lives. The celebration of diversity implies more than acceptance of difference. It demands accommodation of it with dignity and respect.