Another Successful Kennedy Summer School

Kennedy Summer School filled with thought-provoking debates, discussions and guest lectures

The seventh annual Kennedy Summer School was officially opened last Thursday evening (Sept 5th) by Former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Seamus Mallon as he participated in a public interview with Eileen Dunne discussing his fascinating career and his recently published memoir, “A Shared Home Place” and his perspective on current developments, or lack of them, in Northern Ireland. Commenting during his interview Mr Mallon said, “I don’t regret, in fact, I thank god, that we took the path we did.’ On the border poll, he says 50 per cent plus one is not enough. Not in these circumstances .somehow we should be sober to quantify the view of the unionists.”He is considered to be one of the key negotiators of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Following the interview with Seamus Mallon, the leader of the Catholic Church Archbishop Eamon Martin warned that the ongoing absence of a Northern Assembly, increasing sectarianism and the looming presence of Brexit are causing Ireland and Britain to go through a period of dangerous political, social and economic uncertainty. Following the interviews of the evening, multi-platinum singer and songwriter Brian Kennedy took to the stage to entertain the full house at St. Michael’s Theatre.

Earlier at New Ross Library on Thursday evening, distinguished
 former public servant
 Felix M. Larkin donated his personal Kennedy collection to the Kennedy Book and Research Archive. A panel discussion on the topic of ‘Being Protestant and Irish’ was also hosted by Dr Ian D’Alton, from the Centre of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College, Dr Ida Milne, from Carlow College who is also the Vice-Chair of the Oral History Network of Ireland, Dr Deirdre Nuttal and Felix M. Larkin, Independent Academics.

On Friday morning events commenced at St. Mary’s Secondary School in Irishtown as Communications Expert Gina London, Maureen Dowd and Shawn McCreesh from the New York Times and singer Brian Kennedy took to the stage to share details of the challenges they all met in their careers and how they overcame those challenges. At New Ross Library illustrator Lauren O’Neill hosted a workshop with primary school children and at St. Michael’s Theatre Failte Ireland hosted a Tourism Forum with stakeholders within the industry attending from all across the southeast.

Micheal Martin was the keynote speaker at the Kennedy Summer School Speakers Lunch, speaking at the event he called on the Government to be ‘absolutely honest’ about its plans for the Irish border post-Brexit in a public address, following his address he was interviewed by Robert Mac Giolla Phadraig CCO of Sigmar Recruitment.

At the theatre that evening events commenced with a discussion on sporting courage as Sarah O’Shea; Chief Executive of Wexford GAA Gearoid Devitt, Wexford inter-county camogie player Ursula Jacob and inter-county player for the Wexford senior hurling team Lee Chin took to the stage with Evanne Ní Chuilinn.

At 7 pm An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived at the summer school to offer an address and participate in a q&a. He was welcomed to the stage by Sinead McSweeney wife of the late Noel Whelan, who was the founder of the Kennedy Sumer School, Sinead thanked the community and people for their support.

An Taoiseach opened his address with a tribute to Noel, stating that “Noel was able to imagine a better and a kinder Ireland and then he worked to make it happen. I never felt that he was partisan. He was a patriot that helped make the world a better place.”

In his speech, An Taoiseach said, he would like to see postal or consulate-voting rights extended to the Irish abroad adding that there is no such thing as second class Irish citizenship.

Speaking of Brexit he said, “That post-Brexit an EU/UK foreign trade agreement would take many years to hammer out and Britain would be ‘breaking ‘ records’ if they manage to reach a deal within 3 to 4 years.” And in relation to the deal he said, “I still think it’s possible for us to secure an agreement. We can’t accept a promise that it’ll be sorted out later.”

Speaking on the visit by Vice President Pence this week An Taoiseach said, “He’s a normal politician if you like – for want of a better term. I do think his comments in relation to Brexit could have been more balanced.”

Following the address from An Taoiseach a discussion on the similarities and differences between the Irish legal system and constitutional framework and that of the United States particularly in the area of personal and human rights was put into focus as professor of Law at NUI Galway Donncha O’Connell, Dr Jennifer Kavanagh Lecturer in Law in Waterford Institute of Technology, Ruadhán Mac Cormaic Assistant Editor at The Irish Times joined a panel chaired by Noleen Blackwell.

This event was followed by the Kennedy Summer School Interview with graduate of MIT and Yale Law School, where his classmates included Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, Former Congressman Bruce Morrison who was interviewed by Caitriona Perry. During his interview Mr Morrison Said, “Brexit is a terrible tragedy as it is undoing one very important step of Europe coming together, continuing that it can also compromise the “victory” of Good Friday Agreement.”

On Saturday morning the Summer School opened with its History Symposium and looked back at 1959, 1979 and 1989, Ronan McGreevy discussed Seán Lemass. Discussing the political life of Charlie Haughey Conor Lenihan, a former Fianna Fáil TD was joined by Peter Murtagh, an Irish Times security correspondent, who covered Haughey as Taoiseach and co-authored “The Boss”. Also on Saturday morning, thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall Former Czech Ambassador to the United States Michael Žantovský and Former Labour Party leader, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dick Spring looked back at this iconic event and the impact on European politics, the European Union and the United States’ relationship with Europe.

At noon a keynote address was delivered by distinguished New York Times columnist
 Maureen Dowd. In an extended public interview with Larry Donnelly, she discussed her monumental career stemming from her position as an editorial assistant for The Washington Star in 1974, to writing for major global publications on a series of topics from politics to gender. Maureen says that as a child she was, “I was ‘Little Miss Ireland” recognizing her father’s influence on her life. She shared insights to her working life covering nine Presidential election campaigns including a moment when Barrack Obama said to her, “You are really irritating,” referring to her media articles which often unveiled an ‘uncool’ side of the then Presidential candidate. Speaking Borris Johnson and Donald Trump, Maureen says, “Johnson and Trump have created enormous chaos, and that they have tapped into a mix of anger and nostalgia.”

At 2 pm a session on Irish Politics was hosted as ‘Budget, Brexit & Election Time?’ was the topic of conservation for Regina Doherty TD, Jim O’Callaghan TD, Joan Burton TD and Kathleen Funchion as it was chaired by Dr Ciara Kelly. Speaking on Brexit Jim O’Callaghan says, ““We have to be very clear that we want to stick with the path of the European Union…It would be reckless to decide now is a good opportunity to go and have an election in Ireland…We need stability while there’s chaos elsewhere,” Speaking on the upcoming budget Joan Burton says “We’re at an extraordinary both dangerous and interesting time in Irish history…I do think we need a serious conversation of what we can do…We need to frame a budget that looks after the wellbeing of the nation but is also very cautious,”


At 3 pm the twists and turns of the Brexit negotiations, the border issue and UK Ireland relations were discussed by Democratic
Unionist Party, Chief Whip at Westminster Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Senator, Former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell SC., Colum Eastwood Party Leader of the SDLP and Alliance Party Cllr for Castlereagh South Lisburn / Casltereagh South, Sorcha Eastwood.

There have been conversations over many years…what Brexit has done is up the tempo of that debate…where the real conversations need to be happening, they’re not happening,” Jeffery Donaldson tells the chair Audrey Carville, lamenting the absence of north-south ministerial bodies. He continued, “One of the reasons I am here today is because I believe we need to be talking to each other…We do need to look at the relationship and strengthen what we have.”

In his paper presented at the Kennedy Summer School, Senator McDowell makes the case for a confederal form of Irish unity in which the two parts of Ireland agree to share sovereignty, including EU membership while retaining their separate identities. He suggests that Northern Ireland could leave the UK but still retain some form of link to the Crown, like Canada or New Zealand, while a member of an Irish confederation in order to give substance to the guaranteed dimension of Britishness under the Good Friday Agreement in the event of Irish unity. The Meaning Of Irish Unity Will Decide If It Can Be Agreed.

Jeffery Donaldson says, “I believe there is going to be a deal. I don’t believe the UK will leave on no deal.”

At 4 pm Suffolk County’s District Attorney Rachael Rollins offered her perspective on law and politics in today’s USA in a public interview. DA Rollins tells interviewer Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe that “Over 50% of people who come in contact with the criminal justice system, it’s a social crisis they are having,” The final panel discussion of the 2019 Summer School was chaired by Larry Donnelly as he was joined by Rachael Rollins, Cal Thomas, Sarah Elliott, Niall O’Dowd, Michael Lonergan who debated US Politics and Election 2020.

The Kennedy Summer School official closing event on Saturday evening marked the rollout of Fáilte Ireland’s Taste the Island initiative with a gala dinner at the John F. Kennedy Arboretum with special guest Mario Rosenstock. 

The Summer School which is deliberately held outside the peak tourist season brings significant economic benefit to the town and surrounding area with visitors from the US, the UK, France, Germany and all across Ireland pitching up in New Ross for the three-day event.

Commenting on the successful Summer School, Chair Willie Keilthy said, “We are delighted to have delivered a very successful summer school, one which founder of the school Noel Whelan would have been very proud of. All of the participants this year have provoked thought, reflection and inspired our audiences throughout each of the discussions, and the 2019 Kennedy Summer School has yet again lived up to its fast-growing reputation for being wholly contemporary, modern and unafraid of challenging the ‘norm’.”

The Kennedy Summer School and Festival is run in association with the John F. Kennedy Trust, New Ross and Wexford County Council. Audio recordings and videos of the 2019 Kennedy Summer School events are now available to listen to and view on www.kennedysummerschool.ie