Late US senator Robert F Kennedy inducted to Irish-America Hall of Fame

Sat, Sep 8, 2012, 01:00

THE LATE senator Robert F Kennedy was yesterday inducted into the Irish-America Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at the inaugural Kennedy Summer School in Co Wexford.

The award was presented to the one-time US presidential election candidate’s grandson, Robert Kennedy III, who spoke of the family’s links with Ireland and looked forward to next year’s 50th anniversary of the visit of president John F Kennedy to this country.

Among guest speakers at the event was former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy, who said there was room for a new political party to develop in Ireland in the coming years.

Pressed on the matter during a public interview conducted by the summer school director, barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan, she said she had no ambition to enter politics again, but would not rule it out. She said neither Fine Gael nor the Labour Party would be as big as they are now coming out of Government, and she did not think Fianna Fáil was finished as a political movement, while there would be “a lot of resistance” to Sinn Féin.

“I think there is scope for a new party, per se. What I don’t see are the individuals.”

Asked by Mr Whelan whether she would run for such a new party, she said: “I don’t know,” adding she was not active in “doing anything about a new party” and did not “see any people out there who might do it”. Asked again whether she would run if someone from a new party came knocking on her door, she said: “I might or I mightn’t. I would if it suited me . . . but I don’t have any great ambition to do that again.”

Ms Kennedy won a seat for the Progressive Democrats in Dún Laoghaire in the 1987 general election, before losing it at the 1989 election.

She said the Irish media was in a flux at the moment because of the rise of the internet and the recession, while she was “very concerned” about the level of media control held by Denis O’Brien.

Former SDLP MEP and Fine Gael TD Austin Currie drew comparisons during his speech to the summer school in New Ross between the civil rights campaign, which he helped to spearhead in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, and the US civil rights movement backed by US president John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

“It [the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association] took much of its inspiration and strategy and tactics from the movement in the United States,” he said. “It was a matter of some pride that a white, mainly working-class community in a political backwater 5,000 miles from Mississippi and Alabama identified so much with our black sisters and brothers in the United States.”

Receiving the Irish-America Hall of Fame Award for his grandfather, Mr Kennedy said he was proud of the family’s links with Wexford and Ireland. “I’ll accept this award and deliver it to my grandmother on behalf of her and my uncles and aunts and my many, many cousins. I’ll try to bring as many of them as I can back here next year and, if we get a third of them, we’re going to need a bigger room.”

Outside the venue, St Michael’s Theatre in New Ross, Mr Kennedy, a film-maker and writer, was greeted by many locals who had their photographs taken with him and asked for his autograph.

He said the Kennedys were “very close to our Irish heritage”. It was “so cool”, he added, to visit the Kennedy homestead at nearby Dunganstown. There were still people around who remembered his granduncle’s 1963 visit.

“Even though I wasn’t alive during it, it makes me feel close to it,” he continued.

Other participants in the second day of the Kennedy Summer School included former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke, political commentator and disability rights activist Suzy Byrne, Irish Times columnist John Waters, and Prof Howard Keeley of Georgia Southern University.