Thursday 16 August 2018

'Time is right' for a state-backed honours scheme

Cork Person of the Year to be revealed at annual gala awards lunch on January 19

Bill Browne

The Mallow man who established and organises the hugely successful Cork Person of the Year Awards has called for the introduction of a state-sponsored awards scheme for Ireland similar to those operated in other countries.

Manus O'Callaghan was speaking ahead of the unveiling of the Cork Person of the Year, which will be made at a gala awards lunch in the Rochestown Park Hotel on Friday, January 19th. 

Now in its 25th year, the initiative has honoured Cork people from all walks of life for their outstanding achievements and the dedication they have shown to their respective communities. 

Speaking to The Corkman, Mr O'Callaghan said he believed the time was right to introduce a state-backed honours scheme that would pay tribute to Irish citizens "who make an outstanding contribution to their communities and the country at large." 

"Many other countries such as France, Canada and Australia have successfully introduced such systems, which are viewed as the pinnacle of of public recognition for the recipients," said Mr O'Callaghan.

He said that a similar system here would provide an "excellent opportunity" to recognise the achievements of Irish people, both and home and abroad. 

Mr O'Callaghan pointed out that over the past 15-years alone a number of high profile figures including The Corrs, Daniel O'Donnell, Niall Quinn, Pierce Brosnan, Pat Eddery and Orla Guerin had received state honours from Britain. 

"This is hugely positive and welcome, of course. However, I think we should have our own recognition system which rewards Irish citizens for their contributions to their local communities, their artistic endeavours, their heroism and their sporting prowess," he said. 

"An Irish honours system could adopt the best elements from systems in other countries to create a framework that would be effective, transparent and supported by the public and private sectors." 

Mr O'Callaghan said the 2012 introduction of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, which honours 10-people each year for their service to Ireland, was a step in the right direction. 

He said that if an honours scheme can be established for the Irish diaspora, there was no reason why the State could not do something similar for citizens living here in Ireland.

"What we now have is a number of disparate award schemes that, typically, recognise sporting success. However, as is often the case, the unsung heroes that live in our communities do not always receive the official recognition they deserve," said Mr O'Callaghan. 

"These Irish heroes are ordinary people who often risk their lives to save others, make ground-breaking discoveries in science and technology or who hold influential positions within large multi-national organisations."

He said the Office of Active Citizenship at the Department of the Taoiseach did recommend that Ireland establish a national honours system  but nothing ever came of it.

"It's fair to say that there is potential for an honours system to be abused or used as a political football. That's why I'm proposing that an independent body, with representatives from all walks of Irish professional and community life, should be established," said Mr O'Callaghan.

He said the system should be designed to allow all Irish people nominate deserving individuals for an award, should be open and transparent, independently adjudicated and free from political influence.

"I am calling on the Government to establish a State-backed National Awards Scheme that would have all-party backing and be supported by the institutions of the State. The purpose of the awards scheme would be to honour and celebrate this country's greatest asset - our people," he concluded.