McAleese leads tributes to Shriver


President Mary McAleese has led tributes to the founder of the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died today in Massachusetts aged 88.

Ireland hosted the Special Olympics World Games in 2003. Some 6,500 athletes from 170 countries competed. It was the first time the event was held outside the United States. Since then, participation in Special Olympics events in Ireland has almost doubled.

“Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a visionary who devoted her life to creating a better and more inclusive world for people with disability. She created an organisation and a community in which people with disability could demonstrate their talents and where all of us could participate and learn,” Mrs McAleese said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen described Mrs Kennedy Shriver as a woman of great courage and an inspiration to all.

“She worked tirelessly in her crusade to enhance the lives of those with
intellectual disabilities,” the Taoiseach said. “As a member of the Kennedy clan, Eunice always had a special place in her heart for Ireland and a love of our country and its people.”

He said the Special Olympics and Mrs Shriver’s endeavours have changed the lives of disadvantaged people for the better. “Eunice’s legacy is that the eyes she opened, the causes she highlighted and the changes she brought about will continue in her name,” the Taoiseach said. “Her inspiration and drive will live on - in athletes, in volunteers, in parents and in all who knew her.”

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen said Mrs Shriver was “a lady of drive and commitment who made a difference”,  while Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said the games will be her legacy. “Her energy, drive and dedication to advancing the rights of those with disabilities was truly remarkable and will be her enduring legacy,” he said.

The chief executive of the 2003 Special Olympic World Games Mary Davis said the whole Special Olympics movement was saddened by the news. Mrs Shriver was “unfailing in her commitment towards people with an intellectual disability," she said.

“She had an enormous love for Special Olympics athletes,” Ms Davis said. “She was an outstanding leader in terms of the struggle to improve the lives of people with an intellectual disability.”

The chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland Matt English said few people can be credited with having changed the lives of so many. "Her vision and determination to change attitudes towards intellectual disability has resulted in an organisation that offers people with an intellectual disability the opportunity not only to win at sport, but to win at life. Our thoughts are with her family at this sad time," he said.

“It’s testament to Eunice Shriver’s vision that there are now 11,000 athletes between the ages of eight and 60 competing in Ireland. That’s part of her legacy”, Mr English said.