Flanagan pays tribute to Edward Kennedy at ceremony for new Boston institute

Minister for Foreign Affairs is the only foreign dignitary to speak at opening events

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan paid tribute to late US senator Edward Kennedy at a event in Boston last night ahead of today's official dedication of an educational institute to the veteran politician by President Barack Obama.

Mr Flanagan is the only foreign dignitary to speak at the opening events for the Edward M Kennedy Institute, which has been built on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston next to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

He addressed about 1,000 guests at a VIP reception last night before a dinner to mark the opening. The event was attended by Senator Kennedy’s widow and the institute’s co-founder Vicki, other members of the Kennedy family and political, business and civic leaders.

Mr Flanagan offered praise to the late politician, younger brother of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and fellow senator Robert F Kennedy, in honour of the deep connection between the Kennedy family and Ireland.

Mr Kennedy was known as the “Lion of the Senate” because of his years as a prolific legislator. He had a reputation for reaching across the aisle to Republican opponents to find compromise on contentious issues.

Representing the Irish Government, the Minister described Mr Kennedy, who died in 2009, as "a giant of American political life who never lost sight of his roots or those in need."

"The late Senator Kennedy made an enormous difference to people's lives, both in the US, where he represented the true spirit and heart of the US Senate during his 47 years of service, and in Ireland, where his unstinting commitment to achieving a lasting peace was essential to the eventual successful of the peace process," said Mr Flanagan.

“This institute will take forward his extraordinary legacy. It will encourage others to follow his path of public service and to ensure, as he himself put it so eloquently, that ‘the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.’”

The official opening of the institute in Boston will be attended today by leading figures from Mr Kennedy's Democratic Party including US secretary of state John Kerry, Senate minority leader Harry Reid and Massachusetts senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. Boston mayor, the Irish-American Marty Walsh, will also be in attendance.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell will attend along with the Republican governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker.

The institute, which aims to educate the public about the US legislative process and to encourage public debate and participation in politics as well as bipartisanship between the parties, includes a full-scale representation of the US Senate chamber.

At a special ceremony to mark the opening, current and former senators and students from every state in the country will convene and inaugurate the chamber.

The 68,000-square-foot institute, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, has cost $79 million (€72 million) to build and has received $38 million in US government funds. Among the exhibits is a model of Senator Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office in Washington.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent