Gov. Maura Healey addresses the Seanad Éireann on Tuesday. Irish senators pictured in the audience are (front row, from left) Sens. Fiona O'Loughlin, Mark Daly, Gerry Horkan, (back row) Malcolm Byrne, and Erin McGreehan. [Screenshot]
An emotional Healey addressed the Irish Senate, almost exactly 60 years to the day since President John F. Kennedy did the same.
The chair of the Irish Senate, Jerry Buttimer, welcomed the governor and hailed Healey as "a person of firsts," noting her position in history as the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts, the first member of the LGBTQI+ community elected as governor, and the first governor of Massachusetts to address the Irish Senate.
Buttimer, himself a member of the LGBTQI+ community, noted that legislation decriminalizing homosexuality was passed in Ireland 30 years ago this week.
"I'm personally delighted that Governor Healey is here today to mark that historic occasion in our civil rights journey," Buttimer said. "Your presence reminds us all and should remind every boy and girl watching at home or in Boston or in Provincetown, or all over the world, that no matter who you are, what your background is, what's your sexual orientation, your aspirations, you can possess the power to be whoever you want to be."
Buttimer bade a "welcome home" to Healey, whose grandparents emigrated from counties Cork, Kerry and Galway, and her mother, Catherine Tracy Beattie, who accompanied her daughter on the visit and was present in the chamber.
Healey was congratulated on her pronunciation during her opening remarks which she spoke in Ireland's native language (Gaelige).
At the conclusion of her speech, Healey received a standing ovation from those present in the upper house. Buttimer labeled her speech a "home run which would have Fenway Park cheering," adding that he believed Healey "wouldn't be stopping at the corner office, and is heading for the Oval Office."
In her remarks, the governor noted her own admiration for Ireland's social progression in recent decades.
"It's been 19 years since we secured marriage equality in Massachusetts; eight years since both the citizens of Ireland and the Supreme Court of the United States, just one month apart, declared that 'love is love' once and for all; six years since Ireland elected its first openly gay Taoiseach; and nearly six months since I took office as the first openly lesbian woman elected governor of a U.S. state, by Massachusetts, the most Irish state in the union," she said.
Referring to her own family's journey, Healey thanked the other members of the Irish diaspora who congratulated her on her election, including President Biden and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin, a former state representative in Massachusetts.
"I cherish my Irish roots, and I'm grateful to the brave Irish women and men who made my life possible," she told the chamber.
"I'm grateful for this gift, and I'm awed by the fact that ours is just one of millions of emigrant stories that helped build Massachusetts and America. Especially in Massachusetts, where by ancestry, culture, and proximity we claim the closest ties."
Healey noted the Irish-Massachusetts relationship is not one of "distant memory or nostalgia but a living, breathing connection."
"My administration's vision is of a Massachusetts that provides opportunity and wellbeing to all our people, drives the innovations that heal and help humanity, and shines as a beacon of human rights, equality, and freedom," she said. "Our relationship with Ireland is a powerful and necessary resource for advancing each of these goals."
In Dublin this week, Healey is meeting with leaders in business, technology, science, and education to lobby for Massachusetts, joined by Secretary for Economic Development Yvonne Hao and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rebecca Tepper.
"We're here as Team Massachusetts to build on our relationships, forge new connections, and fuel the ideas and partnerships that can move us forward to a better and more prosperous future for all," Healey added.
Labour Party Sen. Annie Hoey welcomed Healey from "one out political woman to another," calling the governor "a leading light in our LGBT community."
Hoey warned against the rollback of rights for minority groups in recent years in the U.S., stating: "I think oftentimes when we hear news of the United States that can sometimes be very depressing, like we're watching one of the world's largest democracies fade away. I think that's why it's so important that we hear from governors like yourself, who aren't afraid of speaking out and challenging the federal government."
Hoey noted Healey's recent efforts to ensure Massachusetts had a stockpile of the abortion drug Mifepristone while under the threat of being banned, and compared it to the fight for abortion rights in Ireland.
"It wasn't so long ago in Ireland, that women like myself and other people were either illegally buying abortion pills for people or helping women in accessing abortion pills here and that was only six years ago," Hoey said.
Healey said there was still much work to be done to protect LGBTQI+ community as well as for women's rights, the climate and disability services.
"Economic success and opportunity is not mutually exclusive of our commitment to human rights or the advancement of social justice," Healey said.
"I think those of us in the world who are to succeed, really, in the time that we're in, in this inflection point in world history, are those who recognize that these can be synergistic. These can and must happen together, that we will all be better for it. And I am truly struck by the ways in which the Irish people have continued to open their doors literally and figuratively, to the world. I know that the Ireland I see is a better place for it and I know that the world and others who find ways to emulate what the Irish people in Ireland have done, we'll be better for it."
Known as the 33rd county of Ireland due to its large Irish population, senators hailed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and some of its politicians, including those who travelled to Northern Ireland during the conflict there. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joseph Kennedy III was praised for his important work in the current peace process.
Leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty in her final remarks called Healey "a great success story" of the Irish diaspora.
The last scheduled events on the governor's trip are on Wednesday after a commemoration event celebrating President Kennedy's historic trip to Ireland.
Aoife Moore is a political correspondent based in Dublin. She was named Irish Journalist of the Year in 2021 for her investigative work.