Feargal Quinn calls for State honours system

Independent Senator insists his proposal is constitutional

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn introduced the Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill 2015. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn introduced the Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill 2015. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn has called for the introduction of a State honours system to recognise exceptional achievement.

He introduced a Private Members’ Bill in the Seanad, which, he said, would allow the State, using strict criteria, to honour the achievements of Irish people and foreigners in a very public and dignified way.

“When it comes to recognising the achievements of our citizens, as well as the contributions of others, we should not be dependent upon the grace and generosity of other nations to award people who do exceptional work for the State,” he said.

Formal mechanism

Introducing the Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill 2015, he said the State did not have a formal mechanism to recognise the achievements of its citizens or people living abroad.

Mr Quinn said great achievement was currently recognised in more informal ways, such as the conferral of honorary citizenships or the freedom of a city, the awarding of honorary degrees and the presentation of Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad.

Under his proposal, recipients of the Gradam an Uachtaráin award would be able to use the letters “GU” after their names, Mr Quinn added.

They would also receive a medal, which could be worn on formal occasions, as well as a lapel button.

It was a myth, he added, that the Constitution did not allow what he was proposing, saying that the reference to “titles of nobility” did not include an honours system.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe said the Government would not oppose the Bill, although that should not be taken as implying acceptance of all its detail.

Mr Kehoe said the introduction of an honours system had been raised on a number of times since the Government took office. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, he said, had written to party leaders about a national awards scheme, but only one of them had responded.

Consensus required

“The Taoiseach has repeatedly said that an all-party consensus is required before considering an awards scheme,” Mr Kehoe said.

“I believe that, in any event, the timing of any such consideration would have to take cognisance of other political priorities at the time.”

Mr Kehoe said it should be noted that a number of award schemes already existed, whereby the State recognised and rewarded merit, distinction or bravery in particular areas.

Mr Kehoe said there were also commercially sponsored award ceremonies, which recognised contributions to sport, business and charities. This included the Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation awards for young innovators and small businesses.