Speech at the 2017 Gaisce Gold Award Ceremony
Dublin Castle, Wednesday, 6th December, 2017
No noble or difficult task is ever easy, and it is perhaps made more noble still and the achievement is all the greater when undertaken in difficult and testing circumstances or where resources were scarce or the context challenging.
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today to recognise the dedication, perseverance and generosity of our Gaisce Gold recipients, and to present 55 talented young people with their award. Today marks the conclusion of a journey – a journey in which you tested yourselves, through your thoughts and actions, first discovering and then surpassing your own limits. It was a journey in which you demonstrated not only a personal determination, but also a commitment to the service of your communities and of your fellow citizens.
Tréaslaím sibh as bhúr carthanachas agus as bhúr saoránacht.
Today is a day on which you, your families and friends, your teachers and mentors, and all those who helped you on your path to the Gold award, can justly feel very proud of your accomplishment.
Over two hundred years ago, a great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wrote that our humanity is measured by our capacity to invent and to innovate. He saw our best resources as residing in our creative use of imagination and reason, our ability to remember our pasts and anticipate our future, and by our universal feelings of sympathy and empathy for one another. It is qualities such as these that have been given expression in the empathy, kindness, persistence, patience, and personal initiative you have all shown in achieving your awards.
Tá searmanais den sort seo tábhachtach. Tugann siad deis dúinn aitheantas phoiblí agus ómós a thabhairt don iliomad slí ina bhfuil na daoine óga atá bailithe sa seomra seo tar éis cuidú le saibhriú a bpobal áitiúil agus, leis sin, le saibhriú na tíre i gcoitinne trína gcuid diansaothair, a smaointe agus a ndíogras anamúil.
While much has been achieved over the years in the school setting, in recent years I have been encouraged by the expansion of Gaisce beyond the traditional setting of the secondary school, and towards a much wider representation of Ireland’s young people, in all their diversity and from all backgrounds.
In their decision to participate in Gaisce, young people are inspired to develop their skills and to gain a new-found confidence in their abilities. Each Gaisce recipient, whether they have achieved bronze, silver or gold – and I know a number of you will today have achieved all three – makes a pact with themselves to pursue and persevere towards goals that they have selected themselves. They do so in circumstances not of their own choosing, but in circumstances determined by our society. No noble or difficult task is ever easy, and it is perhaps made more noble still and the achievement is all the greater when undertaken in difficult and testing circumstances or where resources were scarce or the context challenging.
This year has seen an increasing number of awards to young people in YouthReach, Community Training Colleges, disability organisations, youth and community organisations, prisons, probation and Garda Youth diversion projects, and I was pleased to hear, for the first time, to young people in Direct Provision.
This time last year, following this ceremony in Dublin Castle, I travelled to Mountjoy Prison to present Gaisce awards to three young prisoners. In the coming weeks I hope to do the same in a Direct Provision Centre. Gaisce is to be commended for bringing the benefits of the President’s Award to young people in such challenging circumstances.
It is evidence, not only to the fortitude of the awardees, but also to the commitment and generosity of their President’s Award Leader. Indeed, we have seen evidence of both in one of our awardees – Aaron Fallon not only received the Gaisce Gold today but has now himself become a Leader and youth worker for the Ballymun Regional Youth Resource. Maith thú Aaron. Guím gach rach is beannacht ort.
Without the participation of the President’s Awards Leaders, who guide and assist these young people through what is often a challenging journey, we would not be here today. There are today in this country over 1,500 President’s Awards Leaders, known as PALs, who give of their time, their effort, their experience and their wisdom to support thousands of young people every year. May I take the opportunity today to salute those Leaders who are exemplars of a committed, active and inclusive citizenship.
I also wish to recognise and thank all of those involved in Gaisce for providing the framework through which you pursued these formative endeavours. I commend the Gaisce Council, led by its Chair, John Concannon, and the C.E.O. of Gaisce, Yvonne McKenna, for their dedication in promoting this Award.
Since its inception in 1985 under the patronage of one of my predecessors as President, Patrick Hillery, over 300,000 young people have attempted this Award, and this year alone over 25,000 registered to take part. This is testament to the enduring and continuing success of Gaisce, and to the idealism and passion of our young people.
Each of your individual stories reminds us of the immense potential that lies within all of us, no matter our circumstances. You acquired new skills and improved old ones, including crocheting, woodwork, and photoshop, and discovered that, with practice and diligence, you were capable of more than you might have known.
You have undertaken new sporting and physical challenges, both as individuals and as members of a team, and found a new balance between mind and body. You cycled and walked the highways and byways of this country for your adventure journeys, from the Castlebar International Walking Festival to the Kerry Way.
Today marks an ending, the achievement of the highest Gaisce distinction, but also a continuation, as you will continue to be members, not only of your local and national communities, but also of the global community of this fragile planet, with all the duties and responsibilities, and rights and opportunities that such a membership entails.
The same virtues that you have displayed in your achievement today – the resolution demanded to master a skill, the fortitude required to complete a long and difficult journey, the compassion and solidarity you have shown through your community work – will be called upon more than ever in the coming decades, and I know you will, all of you, rise to whatever challenges are presented.
Your generation faces great contemporary challenges: the moral imperative to welcome those fleeing war, persecution, famine and natural disasters; the demand for a just and sustainable development, both at home and abroad; and above all, the urgent necessity to address the causes and consequences of climate change.
It may sometimes seem difficult to imagine the difference that any single individual can make when confronted by these global issues. But as you have learned through all the hard work you have undertaken to reach this day, and as all those who have attempted and received the Bronze and Silver award have discovered, it is through numberless acts of kindness, compassion and solidarity that you will change our world.
Let me then, once again, congratulate you all for receiving the Gaisce Gold today. You have learned, accomplished and achieved so much of which you can be proud. You, and all those who received the Gaisce awards before you, have shown that we can look towards our future with hope and optimism.
Is mian liom sibh a mholadh agus guím gach rath agus beannacht oraibh don todhchaí, cuma cén conair ghairme a ghlacann sibh.
[I thank you for being citizens we can take such pride in, and I wish you all happiness and success, wherever life may take you.]