My personal thanks to Ireland
I will be ever grateful to individuals and groups who welcomed us and to the tentative strangers who engaged for peace, writes MARY McALEESE
ON THIS my last day as the eighth President of Ireland I want to thank the Irish people for the trust they first placed in me 14 years ago and to offer my warmest good wishes to Michael D Higgins as he prepares to become our ninth president. Back in 1997 both peace and prosperity were elusive ambitions. Today the once fraught relationships on this island and between Ireland and Great Britain have been transformed so that we have a stable peace for the first time in centuries. Regrettably the “rhyming” of peace and prosperity remains some distance away, for we have been hit with a massive economic retrenchment, a global recession and serious fiscal challenges within the euro zone.
Yet in the success, against the odds, of the efforts made by peacemakers of all persuasions, including those who once saw violence as an option, we can see the phenomenal human capacity for change and for improving the human condition.
In the quiet but relentless voluntary community work undertaken daily in every corner of this island, we can be reassured by the Irish gift for social solidarity, for taking responsibility, for making life more caring, interesting, exciting, inclusive and rewarding.
These things are indicative of the strengths we have as a people and of the collective power that is already sowing the seeds of improved times beyond these days of high unemployment, dropping incomes, worrying debt levels and the return of emigration.
I will be ever grateful to all those communities, schools, colleges, organisations and individuals who invited Martin and me into their lives and introduced us to their remarkable and extensive work, which enhances civic life immeasurably.
Those invitations brought us to every part of this island, North and South, and to many parts of the world where our global Irish family nurture such a deep loyalty to Irish identity and culture.
We made friendships across all sorts of ancient estrangements and differences of politics, ethnicity, faith and perspective. We shook thousands of hands at Áras an Uachtaráin and relished the pleasure that a visit to that house brought to so many people.
We were particularly heartened by the people who came as tentative and distrustful strangers but who gradually grew more comfortable. Their willingness to engage allowed us to believe that a future of good-neighbourliness and partnership was possible. The happy and healing visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II showcased the extent of the mutual desire for a new and healthier relationship between our countries and how far we have travelled in creating it.
Representing Ireland abroad was always a particular thrill, for Ireland has many friends and a lot of respect right across the spectrum of nations, often earned for us by our very distinguished and talented emigrant family.
I thank all those who hosted us so hospitably and I especially offer thanks to the international diplomatic corps, our own diplomatic corps and Department of Foreign Affairs personnel who invested so much in ensuring the smooth running and success of those visits.
The impressive staff of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia helped me time and again to get additional value for Ireland from foreign trips and it was always heartening to see so many hard-pressed business people signing up for trade delegations and working assiduously to open up new markets for Irish goods and services.
Every visit overseas was also an opportunity to introduce the best of Irish performers and artists, and to witness the dramatic impact they had on all who saw and heard them.
In my work as President I relied heavily on many people. I am indebted to them and thank them all. With special appreciation I acknowledge the first-class assistance of the entire Áras team, the Council of State, successive governments and government departments, An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, local government, the media, the Northern Ireland Office, the PSNI, the major sporting organisations and NGOs, the transport and hospitality sectors, my friends and family, foremost among them my husband Martin.
To all those who wrote letters and to those who prayed for me, you will never know how invaluable your words and prayers have been.
I have come to know Ireland as intimately as any human being ever could. Ours is an exquisitely beautiful, welcoming country and you would be hard put to find finer people anywhere on this planet. They deserve to live in peace and prosperity and I will continue to pray that such a doubly blessed time will come and soon. It has been the most fulfilling experience to serve my country as president.
Thank you for giving me that opportunity. I hope I have honoured your trust.
Le grá agus buíochas ó chroi, slán agus beannacht.