Monday, 24 October 2011

Farewell to a Great President

As this week draws to a close we will know who will be the 9th President of Ireland. I wish him or her well when elected by the people.

It signals the end of 14 years of Mary McAleese as our President. She has been an outstanding ambassador for Ireland crowned by two extraordinary visits in May by Queen Elizabeth and President Barack Obama.

She has represented us abroad with great distinction. Her predecessor Mary Robinson proved to be the symbol of a new tolerant Ireland. Mary McAleese was the symbol of a modern Ireland at peace with itself North and South. 'Building Bridges' was her motto and she fulfilled that ambition admirably. Her husband - now Senator Martin McAleese - also played a vital role in building these bridges North and South between nationalist and unionist traditions.

I had the pleasure of meeting the President when she invited Engineers Ireland to the Áras in June 2010. Our President Martin Lowery was abroad so I led the Engineers Ireland group together with Director General John Power. The occasion was the 175th anniversary of the founding of Engineers Ireland in 1835 - when Sir John Fox Burgogne was our first President of what was then The Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland. Fox Burgogne was Chairman of the Board of Works based at the Custom House.

President Mary McAleese with Engineers Ireland Vice President PJ Rudden and Director General John Power during our visit to Áras an Uachtaráin in June 2010 to mark our 175th anniversary celebrations

President McAleese made the visit of our 50 members so memorable. She gave us a tour of the State Apartments and then treated us to tea with the help of the Áras staff.  She was very informal to make us feel at home insisting on pouring out our teas herself and chatting with us throughout about the many challenges we faced professionally and personally. She has an engineer daughter which greatly helped her understanding of the profession.

Also striking was the courtesy of her military aides who were most helpful in explaining the history of the Áras and indeed the history of the Presidency. The confident ease of these aides bore large testament to the respect they had for the President and her family and it was obvious that it went well beyond their professional duty. You could see too the confidence that she had in them also to be faithful custodians of a proud heritage.

She expressed her wish that there would be a visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth before she left the Áras in 2011 and her wish was granted. No doubt the short visit by President Obama also in May of this year was an added bonus during her term.

As she retires to private life, we salute her two terms as President for all the people. We wish herself, her husband and family a happy and fulfilling life in the years ahead.

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