Ireland's Permanent Representative to the Unite Nations, Drogheda woman Geraldine Byrne Nason, signs the book of freedom watched by Mayor Paul Bell, the elected members of the Borough District of Drogheda and the CEO of Louth County Council Joan Martin. Photo: Andy Spearman.
The Borough District of Drogheda, Louth County Council has conferred the Freedom of Drogheda on Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason.
The honour, which was bestowed on Ms Byrne Nason at a ceremony at Our Lady’s College, Greenhills Drogheda yesterday evening (10.01.20) is in recognition of a life devoted to public service and Irish diplomatic relations.
In her introduction to the proceedings, the CEO of Louth County Council Joan Martin said that several centuries ago freedom ceremonies involved great pomp and ceremony with vellum scrolls presented to the recipient in a gold box after which he, and until recent years it was always a male, and the audience were treated to a great and expensive banquet.
“There’ll be no gold boxes or expensive banquets tonight!” she warned everyone in advance. Instead we were treated to that rarest of things in Irish public life, a public outpouring of love, pride and emotion from both Ms Byrne Nason and her audience.
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Ms Byrne Nason, a former Ambassador of Ireland to France and Monaco, was nominated for the award by Mayor of Drogheda, Councillor Paul Bell who said it was a privilege for him to extend this acknowledgement to Geraldine Byrne Nason, a Drogheda native who has made a significant contribution to Ireland’s diplomatic relations on an EU and global stage.
“As chair of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, she has offered a strong voice for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. She has also demonstrated her impact in the area of sustainable development through her co-chairing of negotiations on the pathway for Small Island Developing States” Bell said.
“In granting the Freedom of Drogheda, we acknowledge and commemorate her accomplishments as one of Ireland’s top diplomats. We are exceptionally proud of what Ms Byrne Nason has achieved throughout her distinguished career and that she has retained her Drogheda roots whilst representing Ireland on the international stage. The people of Drogheda are delighted that Ms Byrne Nason has agreed to receive the award and it is honour to bestow it on her today.”
During her career, Geraldine Byrne Nason has also served as Ireland’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, and as Second Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach.
Accepting the award, Ms Byrne Nason said: “I would like to thank the Borough District of Drogheda and Mayor Paul Bell for this great honour. My Drogheda roots have shaped who I am and I am very proud of where I come from: it means so much to me to be recognised with the freedom of my home town.
Several times during her address she referred to herself as the Ambassador of the “Republic of Drogheda” a term that she often uses to refer to herself.
“I have dedicated my life to diplomatic service and I believe passionately in the power of diplomacy, and in gender equality and the valuable contribution of women to society” she said.
“I love my work and I would be delighted if in some way it inspired young people from Drogheda to pursue careers in public service, where they can be part of effecting positive change.”
Geraldine Byrne Nason is the 35th recipient of the Freedom of Drogheda. Previous awardees include President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins; Irish economist, politician, diplomat and civil servant Kevin TK Whitaker, former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; SDLP leader, John Hume; former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon; founder of the Irish Wheelchaor Association Oliver Murphy and Pope John Paul II.
She is however only the third woman to be so honoured, the first was Mother Mary Martin, the founder of the Medical Missionary of Mary and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.
“Our second woman Freeman needs no introduction and is both a friend and former colleague of Geraldine’s, the first woman President of Ireland and also former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Mary Robinson” Mayor Bell said.
“I wish to congratulate our Ambassador on her role as Chairwoman of the United Nations Commission on the status of Women” he added. This is the first time Ireland has held this extremely important post.
“What also struck me about Geraldine is her eagerness to give back to her town and the citizens, much of which is conducted quietly and in a somewhat determined manner.
“I am aware that our Ambassador never fails to visit her (former) school here in Our Lady’s College Greenhills to engage and inspire young women about the importance of education, of ambition not just for oneself but also for their community, their Country, for justice, for family and for our planet.
“There is much talk about role models and the need for successful women to encourage other women in career. While this is important and true, it is not correct to say that women leaders only inspire other women.
“Women leaders must also have the ability to inspire all of us and this in my opinion this is why Geraldine is loved, admired and respected by all who come into contact with her both at home and abroad.
“This is one of the key factors which made it possible for the elected members of Drogheda Borough Council to unanimously endorse the motion for the bestowing of this Civic Honour.”