Irish nun who gave Pope hi-vis vest to be honoured in Sydney

Brigid Awards will recognise outstanding contribution of Irish women in Australia

Five Irish-Australian women will receive awards at a ceremony in Sydney on Friday, including a Cork nun who is chaplain at Port Botany and the former president of the trade union umbrella group.

The annual Brigid Awards, named after Saint Brigid, recognises the contributions of women with Irish heritage to Australian society.

Senator Deborah O’Neill, patron of the Irish Friends of Labor, which is organising the awards, said the occasion was “an important way of recognising the work and commitment that Irish and Irish Australian women do in many parts of our community”.

Sister Mary Leahy, who will receive a community hero award, has for over 25 years provided care and support to seafarers at Sydney's Port Botany away from their homes and families often for months at a time. Born in Fermoy and living in Australia since 1979, she met Pope Francis in December to receive a Papal honour, the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for the dedication she has shown in ministering to seafarers. Sister Mary presented the Pope with a high visibility vest in case, as she remarked afterwards, "he wants to visit a ship".


Gerardine “Ged” Kearney, recently elected to the Australian federal House of Representatives and former president of the Australia Council of Trade Unions, will receive the Bridget Whelan award. A former nurse, Ms Kearney spear-headed the push among the trade union movement to make paid domestic violence leave an entitlement in all workplace agreements. She has been an outspoken critic of Australia’s policy on refugees and attempts to strip away protections and conditions for workers. Ms Kearney has strong links to Ireland through both of her parents, whose ancestors emigrated to Australia in the nineteenth century. The Bridget Whelan award is named after the late government adviser who became an advocate for charities and cancer awareness organisations.

Other award recipients include Tina King Garde, from Dún Laoghaire, who has supported the Irish in Sydney through her work in community radio and through the Gaelic Club. She raised one of the highest amounts of funding for the Dry July campaign in 2014, which helped support work carried out by the Royal North Shore Hospital Cancer Unit, where her late husband Phil was receiving treatment at the time.

Georgina Finn, from Dublin, will receive a contribution to small business award for her role in setting up Celtic Travel and her support to the Irish community. This includes her work with Irish networking group the Lansdowne Club and the Ireland Funds Australia, which supports worthy causes in Ireland and Australia.

Niamh Fitzsimons, from Dublin, will receive an award for her contribution to the trade union movement through her work with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association. She has worked on high profile campaigns on eliminating lower rates of pay for young people in the retail and fast food sector and the 24-Seven Helpline, which supports 7-Eleven workers after systematic underpayment and abuse was exposed.