SUMMER SCHOOL SIZZLES
IN-DEPTH DISCUSSIONS ON THE KEY POLITICAL ISSUES OF THE DAY MADE FOR AN ENTHRALLING KENNEDY SUMMER SCHOOL. DAVIDLOOBY REPORTS
POLITICAL anoraks and people with even a passing interest in world events were challenged, enlightened and entertained during the ‘Electric Picnic’ of summer schools in New Ross over three days.
Thousands of people attended 19 events held in New Ross from Thursday till Saturday, where politicians, journalists, political advisers and sportspeople engaged in lively discussions about the issues of the day. Human rights campaigner and daughter of Robert F Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy officially opened the summer school on Thursday night at St Michael’s Theatre, 50 years on from her father’s assassination. She described US president Donald Trump as a ‘disaster’ since taking office and said she hopes her nephew, Congressman Joseph P Kennedy will run for the position.
Ms Kennedy was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame at the Dunbrody Visitor Centre. She also presented a copy of her book, Robert F Kennedy, Ripples of Hope, to the local Kennedy Book and Research Archive at New Ross Library, where she said: ‘When people ask me what’s really important about my father, I think the most important thing about him was his moral imagination.’
Ms Kennedy, who has worked on various human rights issues since 1981, described President Trump as ‘a disaster on human rights’ because of his policies towards immigrants and refugees and said he had undermined the United Nations as well as the LGBT community, the African-American community, the Native American community, while being a ‘warmonger’ in his actions and his dealings with other world leaders. Speaking on whether she thinks President Trump will be re-elected, Ms Kennedy said: ‘I hope not, I’m very excited about the reactions of the American people especially the youth movements, the Parkland students in Florida, the Native Americans at Standing Rock, the Women’s Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter – those have all really been reinvigorated in a way that we have not seen for decades and decades by this Presidency.’
She was one of many speakers to lambaste the President over the course of the three days. The summer school began with a seminar on the Irish third level education system, followed by a tea party reminiscent of the most famous tea party in Ireland’s history, hosted by chef Rachel Allen and Brendan Grace at the JFK Arboretum and Memorial Park which was attended by a large crowd. Following Ms Kennedy’s interview with a panel of sporting heroes took to the stage as they discussed ‘Profiles on Sporting Courage’. Anna Geary was joined by Aidan O’Brien, Davy Fitzgerald, Kevin Doyle and Lisa Jacob and chaired by Sinead Carroll.
Over three days more than 40 guest speakers participated in debates on a wide range of subjects with current U.S. politics, the final phase of Brexit negotiations and the recent Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment. On Friday morning an inspirational event for school students took place at St. Mary’s Secondary School in New Ross. Author and Senator Lynn Ruane joined Twitter Ireland’s managing director Sinead McSweeney and 2FM DJ Chris Greene as they addressed more than 800 pupils on ‘Inspiring Ambition over Adversity’.
On Friday afternoon EU Commissioner Hogan was the keynote speaker at the Kennedy Summer School luncheon at the JFK Arboretum and Memorial Park. He was critical of the ‘ultra-Brexiteers’ particularly Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson as he compared them to the Three Stooges and US President Trump. He likened the President to a cattle dealer who takes a short-term view of the world who drives hard bargains and fails to make sustainable deals which can benefit all in the longer-term. Later in the evening, the official opening of the Irish American Hall of Fame took place at the Dunbrody Visitor Centre which saw Ms Kennedy inducted to the hall and Brendan Grace awarded the Spirit of Ireland Award.
Back at St Michael’s Theatre a panel discussion titled, ‘Brexit Endgame: Implications for Ireland’ was chaired by Audrey Carville and she was joined by Dearbhal McDonald, Lucinda Creighton, Mary O’Rourke and Michelle Gildernew. The audience asked if there is any sympathy for English PM Teresa May. Lucinda Creighton said: ‘She’s in an impossible position... the hard Brexiteers are using her, they don’t want to be responsible for the catastrophe and will get rid of her when it’s done.’
Former Minister Mary O’Rourke thinks the UK Government needs to sort out their negotiations and agree on a Brexit deal so they don’t crash out of the EU. ‘I don’t think the British at the end of the day can be that stupid,’ she said. Later in the evening saw an event in which the interview tables were turned as founder of the Kennedy Summer School Noel Whelan interviewed Miriam O’Callaghan about her life. Events closed with a special meal to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of The John F. Kennedy Arboretum and Memorial Park with President Michael D Higgins.
At a talk entitled Presidential Elections and Political Persuasion on Saturday, American political strategist John Weaver recalled his time campaigning with the late John McCain, who passed away the previous week. ‘John would have enjoyed this,’ the Republican from Texas said, adding that his party has lost its way completely by not caring for working class people.
There was a big round of applause after the screening of the famous McCain speech in which he defended President Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign a town hall meeting. Mr Weaver said John Kasich is seriously looking at running for the 2020 Presidency, adding that President Trump is unfit to be President now or from 2020.
During a debate entitled Trump, Immigrants, Jobs & Guns Mr Weaver said: ‘He (Mr Trump) is not bright enough to have an ideology. He is a narcissist and he is not the dominant sentiment in the US. The dominant sentiment in the US is not hate and division. He is a fantastic marketer of Donald Trump.’
He said under Mr Trump a darkness has returned to American society that has not been seens since the era of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. Mr Weaver said you couldn’t get two more different characters than Robert F Kennedy and Donald Trump, pointing out that the Republican party has lost 15 million members since Mr Trump arrived on the scene.
Dr Robert Mauro of Boston College said Mr Trump is playing the victim card. ‘We are in a trade war with Canada: that’s like being in a trade war with your brother.’
Summer School chair Willie Kielthy said he was thrilled with how it went. ‘I am really happy. I think it ticked all of the boxes. Commissioner Hogan’s remarks were carried in the UK press and it does focus on New Ross in particular and the Kennedy story.’
Mr Kielthy said there were numerous guests from America and a Chinese delegation attended. ‘Even the finale with President Higgins in the park for its 50th anniversary closing the festival for us was a huge honour from the summer school’s perspective. For our President to speak so eloquently about the park, about Robert F Kennedy and about the summer school was special.’
He said Fáilte Ireland’s Paul Kelly was in New Ross for the entire festival, which was a great coup, adding that its profile has been boosted. ‘Hopefully we will have equally exciting speakers next year. We plan to freshen it up and have already had speakers contact us about attending next year.’
Rachel Allen poses for a selfie with Rachel Hussey from Taghom at the tea party.
Audrey Carville, Mary O’Rourke, Cllr John Fleming, Michelle Gildernew, Dearbhail McDonald and Lucinda Creighton.
Maurice Buckley, OPW chairperson; EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, Mary O’Rourke, Dr Robert Mauro, Boston College; and RTE’s Eileen Dunne.