Pictured (L-R): An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, Ian Hyland, President and Publisher of Business & Finance and Seamus Hand, Managing Partner, KPMG. Picture by Andres Poveda.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, accepted the Sutherland Leadership Award on behalf of the European Union at the 2022 Business & Finance Awards, in association with KPMG. This was in recognition of 50 years since Ireland’s accession to the EU. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine was also honoured with the TK Whitaker Award for his leadership in the war against Russia.
By David Monaghan, Deputy Editor, Business & Finance
Sutherland Leadership Award
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accepted the 2022 Sutherland Leadership Award at the 48th annual Business & Finance Awards, in association with KPMG, on behalf of the European Union. The event took place at the Convention Centre in Dublin on Thursday, December 1st in the company of 1,000 International business, political and social leaders.
Many notable politicians in attendance acknowledged the significance of President von der Leyen’s visit as a celebration of Ireland’s 50 years of membership in the European Union.
Speaking to Business & Finance, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson stated: “I’m old enough to have taken part in the referendum campaign, and I felt that Ireland’s membership of the EU would give us new partnerships, new possibilities, even new recognition of our culture, and our fight for freedom over long years.
“We had been too linked to our big brother next door, who didn’t necessarily value us, and particularly didn’t value Northern Ireland at all, and that this would be the way forward. It has been. We’ve come through some difficult periods, particularly with our financial crisis, but I think the relationship is an important one, and I think the European Union has understood the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and has stood by us on the protocol, which is very important.”
Former Tánaiste Mary Harney said the membership of the EU has “opened our minds to how things are done in other countries.” She noted that it has made us more “open-minded, positive and liberal.”
She continued: “We have seen what has happened in the UK since they decided to exit the EU, the price they’re paying. I don’t think we should take our membership for granted. We need to be active members of the EU.”
Ms. Harney said that there is potential for Ireland, as the only English-speaking country in the EU, to act as a bridge between Europe and the United States.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD arrived with President von der Leyen at the Convention Centre. He said that Ireland’s membership of the EU has been “transformative” for the country: “It has been enormously advantageous from my perspective,” he said.
He continued: “From an economic perspective, from a social perspective, cultural, artistic, environmental, empowerment of women, better labour rights, it has been transformative.”
An Taoiseach then noted that greater investment in education, export, free trade, and a more global vision took hold post-accession.
President von der Leyen, who has served as the Commission President since 2019, accepted the award, and spoke about Ireland’s relationship with the European Union.
She said: “The story of Ireland in the European Union inspires hope, especially at a time when war has sadly returned to our continent. A story of reconciliation, peace and progress, written by the people of Ireland.”
“Europe is proud to call you family,” she said.
She called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an “attack on the rights to be a free and democratic nation.”
She finished her speech with an impassioned recapitulation of shared values: “Long live our passion for peace, long live our passion for freedom, long live Ireland, long live Europe.”
President von der Leyen’s speech is available to view in its entirety below.
TK Whitaker Award
The TK Whitaker Award honours Irish and international social and political leaders who have been exemplary in their contribution to public life. John and Pat Hume received the honour at the 2021 ceremony.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was recognised with the award for his exemplary handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky addressed those present at the awards ceremony via video link.
“I am grateful you are honouring Ukraine with this outstanding award,” said the Ukrainian President.
“This award reflects the path that we are to go through. In exactly one month, Ireland will celebrate its first 50 years as part of the European Union.
“Ukraine is doing everything so that our first 50 years as a part of the European Union can also be celebrated sooner. I urge you to unfailingly support Ukraine on this path.
“I thank you for the historical support of Ireland and the entire European Community to our State in our struggle for freedom and independence. We will definitely win this together. Glory to Ukraine!”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland, Gerasko Larysa, accepted the award on behalf of the President.
“We are fighting for our freedom. We are fighting for our independence,” she said.
“Russia uses not only missiles to terrorise our Ukrainians, our people, but also energy, food and cold. This winter will be the darkest one for the Ukrainian people. We are fighting for our survival. Today we need your support and help as never before.”
President Zelenskyy’s speech is available to view in full below.