Leo Varadkar calls for equality at men-only dinner in US
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar evoked the spirit of rebel leader Robert Emmet as he delivered a polite but stiff message on gender equality at an Irish-American association dinner from which women are banned last night.
Mr Varadkar attended the Hibernian Society's 'men-only' dinner in Savannah, Georgia, in contrast to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore who last year boycotted the event on gender-equality grounds.
The Transport Minister saluted the attendance, reflecting that their society was now almost 200 years old, but he also stressed the need for change in a modern era.
He noted also that a major park in Savannah had been named for the patriot Robert Emmet whose speech from the dock inspired many US political leaders.
He said that President Abraham Lincoln had pardoned a Confederate spy because his courtroom speech was reminiscent of Emmet's.
On the other side of the Civil War divide, Winnie Davis, daughter of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, wrote an acclaimed biography of Emmet, which was largely responsible for his fame in America.
"Today we remember all of the great figures from our history who have helped to change the world . . . they ask us to reflect on the kind of society we live in, and the kind of society we want to live in. Better times and better things," he said.
The minister also argued that were Emmet alive today he would be a firm advocate for gender equality.
"We must remember the spirit of Robert Emmet and recognise that real change requires that we find the courage within ourselves to make our future as it ought to be – free and independent, equal and just," Mr Varadkar told guests.
"Catholic, Protestant, believer and non-believer, gay, straight, male, female.
"Today, this St Patrick's Day, we celebrate all that we have achieved, and rededicate ourselves to what we still must do."
He also paid tribute to the Irish community in Savannah for their courage in overcoming poverty and other challenges as immigrants, and also for their loyalty and generosity to Ireland.
"Places like Savannah throughout America played their part in making Ireland what it is today. We share a vision of the kind of Ireland we hope to see in the future – free and independent, both economically and culturally, embodying a spirit of justice, opportunity and equality on the national and international stage. Ireland as she ought to be," he said.