Former President Mary McAleese and husband Martin get Tipperary International Peace Award
FORMER president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to the peace process.
The Tipperary International Peace Award was awarded to the professor and her senator husband for their daring and bold achievements which proved their sceptics wrong.
Martin Quinn, who presented the award, said the presidency of Mary McAleese will forever be associated with the cause of peace, the culmination of which was the groundbreaking state visit of Queen Elizabeth.
"From the outset Mary put reconciliation at the heart of her presidency," said Mr Quinn, who is secretary of the Tipperary Peace Forum.
"Her election was based on the theme of building bridges and as we reflect on her presidency we can say without question that she has delivered on this theme spectacularly."
The couple said they were honoured with the award and paid tribute to the many people who quietly still invest in peacemaking during their daily lives.
Mrs McAleese said she was fortunate to work with her husband and others to open up spaces for friendship and good neighbourliness across axes where enmity and estrangement were the norm.
"I hope and pray that the seeds of that work, the seeds of the work of all peacemakers, will be good seed, that the plants of peace will be strong enough to choke the weeds of sectarian hatred and that Ireland will know a day when, North and South, her people are reconciled, when, East and West, they are the best of friends and neighbours," she said.
However, Mrs McAleese warned everything that makes people hate and hurt is man-made.
"If we want an end to the pain that the absence of peace inflicts on individuals, families and communities, if we want an end to chapters in history books that chart the lost lives, the wasted lives, the brutish and skewed lives, there is only one way - people have to make peace with their enemies," she said.
"Only people can make peace.
"They cannot make it by oppressing each other into conformity or bombing each other into agreement.
"Our own baleful history teaches us that."
The couple said their similar experience as Catholics growing up in Loyalist areas of Belfast gave them a deep urgent desire for streets where all could walk proudly, safely, and feel at home.
Senator McAleese revealed he was raised in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and sectarianism - but later reached out in hope to try to engage with the same communities which were dominated by Loyalist paramilitarism.
His role building those bridges shows the strongest and most enduring relationships, underpinned by trust and generosity, can be with those whom we are least expected to befriend, he said.
"These are men and women who took a chance on us and whom we are now able to regard as friends," he added.
Mr Quinn paid tribute to the senator, who he said promoted peace and reconciliation every step of the way.
"The series of meetings that he initiated with senior loyalist paramilitary leaders have been widely viewed as instrumental in bringing loyalist paramilitary groups to peace talks," he said.
"It was daring and risky, but it was done quietly and with great respect for their beliefs and traditions and with the objective of inclusion and 'opening doors'."
Several dignitaries and community members from both sides of the border attended the ceremony as the pair were recognised for their outstanding efforts in promoting peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland and with the United Kingdom.
Previous recipients of the Tipperary Peace Award include former world leaders Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton and assassinated Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto.