Joe Lynam: Ireland is grown up enough to have an honours system

Let’s learn from the abuses and failed patronage of other countries

Recipients of the Legion d’Honneur such as the late Peter Sutherland are entitled to wear tiny red stitching on clothing to indicate they have received France’s highest decoration.

Recipients of the Legion d’Honneur such as the late Peter Sutherland are entitled to wear tiny red stitching on clothing to indicate they have received France’s highest decoration.

 

Let’s be honest: the honours system in the UK has seen better days. Rail executives get gongs despite chaos for millions of commuters. Ageing MPs get knighthoods despite objecting to the minimum wage and a ban on ‘upskirting’ (take a bow Sir Christopher Chope). Lord Jeffrey Archer was able to go straight from prison into the division lobbies of the House of Lords. In fact if you make regular and sizeable donations to a political party or reach a certain rank within the British civil service or the army, you can be assured of a peerage or knighthood.

So Ireland is right not to have any honours system? Wrong.

Ireland is one of the very few European countries not to publicly reward and recognise its own citizens. The Constitution even states: “Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State.”

Despite this, hundreds of unknown and well-known Irish people have been honoured in other countries – having been all but ignored for the same toils where they were born.

Legion d’Honneur

The late Peter Sutherland proudly wore the tiny red stitching on his suits’ lapels to show he had received the Legion d’Honneur from France. He also received Spain’s Grand Cross of Civil Merit and Belgium’s Grand Cross of Leopold II. Bob Geldof, Bono, Tony O’Reilly, etc have all received prestigious honorary awards from Britain and numerous other countries. Although widely admired in Ireland, the best they can hope for in their homeland is the right to graze sheep in St Stephens Green if they are given the freedom of Dublin.

If the subject of why Ireland does not have an honours system is raised, I frequently hear the same two reasons: “Because we’re not like Britain” and “Could we trust ourselves not to abuse it?”

These vacuous grounds could well have been justified 50 years ago when Ireland was a “great little nation” with a sizeable chip on its shoulder viz its big neighbour. But 21st-century Ireland is a different place. I should know. Although born and educated in Dublin, I’ve lived in London for 17 years and am happy to report that I don’t recognise the Ireland I left. We are now a beacon of prosperity, modernity and decency.

So let’s do the decent thing and honour those people who have honoured Ireland. Let’s learn from the abuses and failed patronage of other countries. Let’s reward the dad who has trained the under-12s hurling team for 20 years in all weather. The aunt who has brought meals on wheels to the elderly for decades. The boy who rescued dozens from a burning building. The mum who fostered scores of children for nothing. In short, the unsung people who made a difference in their communities.

And yes, we should also publicly acknowledge the superstars as well. Johnny Sexton, Michael Fassbender, Rory McIlroy, Jack Charlton. But in my ideal honours system, no politician would ever be given an award nor would any political donor.

Green stitching

Perhaps instead of red thread on the lapel, Irish recipients could have green stitching on the cuffs of their suits, or a subtle pin or a few letters after their name in formal correspondence. A big day out in the Áras in a must though.

And it’s not as if we didn’t used to give out honours. The Order of St Patrick was conferred until Irish independence in 1922 but abandoned thereafter. Attempts have been made to resurrect an honours system including a Private Member’s Bill by Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn when he was in the Seanad. But the cross-party political will has always been lacking.

Whichever way we choose to publicly tip our hat at those who have made Ireland a better place, the body that would decide on those honours would have to be free from any political interference or the “Sure, don’t I know your father” nonsense. It should represent the new Ireland and strands of the old as well. It should include foreign-nationals and have a gender and regional balance.

I know creating such an august group of people would be tough in itself and it may take a few years to bed down but citizens who are proud of their country should have a country that is publicly proud of its citizens.

Joe Lynam is a BBC business correspondent and presenter

@BBC_Joe_Lynam

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.