Time for an Irish honours system
Sir, – I was sad to learn of the passing of the distinguished and celebrated Irish architect Kevin Roche earlier this month. While I did not know Kevin Roche personally, I greatly admire his body of work. Before his death was announced, I dare say that most people had not been familiar with Kevin or his many achievements. He designed many iconic buildings, including the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ford Foundation headquarters with its tree-filled atrium, the sprawling world headquarters of the Deere Company in Illinois, and the incredible General Foods Headquarters in New York. Closer to home he designed a building with which we are all familiar – the National Convention Centre in Dublin, which has been a terrific addition to Dublin’s architecture. During his lifetime Kevin Roche was bestowed with many great accolades, and these included the Pritzker Prize, often referred to as being the Oscars of architecture. He also received the Académie d’Architecture’s Grand Gold Medal in 1977, the Gold Medal for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990, and the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal in 1993, among others. He was also conferred with an honorary doctorate by the NUI.
In spite of his achievements, notoriety and peerless standing in the world of architecture, Kevin Roche never received from the State the degree of recognition or honour that he undoubtedly deserved.
While there has been much commentary and praise of Kevin Roche in the aftermath of his death, there has to be a better and more meaningful way for Ireland to honour momentous achievement and to do so during a person’s lifetime.
Commentators often mistakenly think that the Constitution would prevent Ireland from having the equivalent of an honours system. This is not the case. Article 40.2.1 of the Constitution precludes the granting of “titles of nobility”; however, an honours system does not have to involve a title of nobility.
Many other countries do a fine job of recognising achievement of its citizens, and indeed those from beyond its shores. France, Italy and Austria are only some of the examples of European republics which confer honours. They are joined by other countries such as Canada, the United States, New Zealand and South Africa which also recognise achievements through the conferral of honours and awards.
In 2015, I published a piece of legislation – Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill – which would have established an honours system to enable the State to recognise the outstanding achievements of its citizens, and of others.
Under my proposals, the award would be conferred by the President on up to 12 people per year in recognition of outstanding achievement in areas such as (a) social and community affairs, (b) education and healthcare, (c) arts, literature and music, (d) science and technology, (e) sport, and (f) leadership and business.
While during the debate in the Seanad, the Government did not oppose my Bill at that time, the inaction to date on establishing an honours system speaks for itself and reflects poorly on our collective regard for stalwarts and trailblazers like the late Kevin Roche who burned so brightly. – Yours, etc,