Freedom of the City of Dublin to be conferred on Barack and Michelle Obama

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr proposed to the members of Dublin City Council at its meeting on 6th February, 2017 that the Freedom of the City of Dublin be conferred on President Barack and Michelle Obama. The proposal was carried by a majority of the City Council members present.

Speaking about the decision to confer the Freedom of Dublin City on Barack and Michelle Obama the Lord Mayor said “The award is often a political statement. I believe at this juncture in world politics this Council and our city, as it has done in the past, can make a clear statement about what example we would wish the paramount global political leader, who is whether we like it or not the US President, to set in international relations. I believe Barack and Michelle Obama did set the right direction for the US both domestically and in international relations of seeking to build a cohesive and inclusive society which respects all is constituent communities. This was done often in the face of stiff opposition from a Congress and a US military and commercial establishment which unfortunately is not as supportive of these aims as the former First Couple.”

The Lord Mayor gave the following examples of President Obama’s achievements during his term of office:

  • Two days after taking the oath of office on 20th January 2009 signing anExecutive Order that revoked the directives made by his predecessor George W. Bush authorising the use of torture by US forces. This order is now being reintroduced by the current President Donald Trump.
  • Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his commitment to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • Ending US military operations in Afghanistan.
  • Overseeing an agreement which has halted attempts by Iran to secure a nuclear weapon, thus defusing the threat of the wider Middle East being plunged into a war, and making the world a more secure place.
  • Beginning the process of normalising relations between the US and Cuba. In March 2016, he visited Havana, a clear sign of his transformation in US policy towards Cuba from one of regime change to peaceful co-existence. In October 2016, Obama instructed the US delegation at the UN, for the first time, not to oppose a motion condemning the economic blockade of Cuba.
  • Two of his final acts as President; instructing the US delegation at the UN not to use its veto on a resolution demanding a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, an issue which many of us on Dublin City Council have consistently highlighted, and communing the sentence of whistle blower Chelsea Manning.

Some of Michelle Obama’s most important achievements include:

  • Campaigning and lecturing on the need for greater access to education for women throughout the world as part of her “62 million girls - Let Girls Learn” initiative to end world poverty.
  • Promoting the rights of refugees through education campaigns and personal actions, despite serious opposition from many Americans.
  • Consistently campaigning and working on behalf of many worthy charities.

The Lord Mayor spoke at length about the proposal and details of his speech are in Notes to the Editor below.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

"Councillors, City Officials, Visitors,

Last year, I stated that I intended to propose the Freedom of the City of Dublin to President Barack Obama. In light of the recent draconian decisions being taken by his successor President Donald Trump, I believe it is more important now than ever that I proceed with this proposal.

In addition, I am also proposing that the City Council recognise the inspirational role on global human rights issues and promoting access to education played by First Lady Michelle Obama by also awarding her the highest honour we can grant – the Freedom of Dublin City.

Although the granting of the Freedom of the City is often associated with persons who have specifically assisted the residents of Dublin, since its establishment as a modern honour it has just as often been awarded to show the city’s appreciation of a recipients’ actions on the global stage.

So it was that in 1878 Ulysses S. Grant became the first US citizen to be awarded the honour for his role as both a US President and as that Commander of the Union Army during the American Civil War. More recently recipients such as Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and Aung San Suu Kyi were granted the freedom of the city to highlight their role in political struggles, far removed directly from the day to day life of our city, but still important in terms of the promotion of the values of equality, justice and progressive change. President Bill Clinton was also honoured with the Freedom of City in 1995.

There is also precedence for a couple being awarded the freedom of the city. In 1985 the honour was bestowed on the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan for their diplomatic activities.

It is largely in this tradition that I am proposing the granting of the Freedom of Dublin to Barack and Michelle Obama.

The award is often a political statement. I believe at this juncture in world politics this Council and our city, as it has done in the past, can make a clear statement about what example we would wish the paramount global political leader, who is whether we like it or not the US President, to set in international relations. I believe Barack and Michelle Obama did set the right direction for the US both domestically and in international relations of seeking to build a cohesive and inclusive society which respects all is constituent communities. This was done often in the face of stiff opposition from a Congress and a US military and commercial establishment which unfortunately is not as supportive of these aims as the former First Couple.

While I’m acutely aware of the failings of US foreign policy during the Presidency of Barack Obama, I believe he and Michelle, through their promotion of the rights of refugees, humanitarian causes and focus on improving international relations with several States, did point American society in a progressive direction.

Unfortunately, this progressive path has been broken by the new American administration whose recent executive orders indicate a very concerning trajectory for the US and international relations. Regardless of Councillors political affiliations, I believe that we are united in opposing President Trump’s attempt to make the world a more xenophobic, intolerant and unstable place. These actions run counter to our aims as a City Council to build an inclusive, tolerant and understanding city, with a citizenry which helps their fellow human beings in their time of need regardless of their race, creed or nationality - goals and aspirations which were consistently promoted by the Obamas.

President Obama inherited some of the most challenging legacy issues possible from his predecessor George Bush. Some of the actions the US has taken in response to the turmoil that has swept the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, Obama himself has described as “regrettable”. However, at a time when the world is witnessing some of the most barbaric acts imaginable, we expect those who can, to try and stop them. For I hold to the truth of that maxim of that great Dublin philosopher Edmund Burke that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

It may only become evident in the coming years the true extent that during his Presidency Obama was a stabilising and moderating influence on US foreign policy.

I believe that considering the context, the records of both Michelle and Barack Obama’s achievements are very impressive. Some examples of their international successes include:

  • Beginning the process of normalising relations between the US and Cuba. In March 2016, they visited Havana, a clear sign of the transformation in US policy towards Cuba from one of regime change to peaceful co-existence. In October 2016, Obama instructed the US delegation at the UN, for the first time, not to oppose a motion condemning the economic blockade of Cuba - position many in this chamber would fully support.
  • Overseeing an agreement which has halted attempts by Iran to secure a nuclear weapon, thus defusing the threat of the wider Middle East being plunged into a war, and making the world a more secure place.
  • Signing an Executive Order, which revoked the directives made by his predecessor George W. Bush authorising the use of torture by US forces an order which the current US President has stated that he wishes to overturn.
  • Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his commitment to the nonproliferation of nuclear
  • Ending US military operations in Afghanistan.
  • Communing the sentence of whistle blower Chelsea Manning.
  • And, instructing the US delegation at the UN not to use its veto on a resolution demanding a halt to all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. This action was a unique and unprecedented statement by a US President in modern times concerning the need to develop a foreign policy with a greater focus on justice. It was also a key change to the US approach on an issue of which many of us on Dublin City Council have consistently highlighted for decades.

Some of Michelle Obama’s most important achievements include:

  • Campaigning and lecturing on the need for greater access to education for women throughout the world as part of her “62 million girls - Let Girls Learn” initiative to end world poverty.
  • Promoting the rights of refugees through education campaigns and personal actions, despite serious opposition from many Americans.
  • Consistently campaigning and working on behalf of many worthy charities.

In addition the Obamas played a key role in restoring the people of Dublin’s faith in the possibility of the US playing a constructive role in global relations, promoting peace rather than disharmony. They also personally inspired many Dubliners who came out in their thousands to greet them during the depths of our economic crisis when they visited the city in 2011 and gave us a new phrase 'Is féidir linn', which summed up a shared hope for progressive change.

President Obama succeeded in giving millions of poorer Americans, at least for a period, access to an acceptable level of healthcare, again a goal we in this city aim to achieve for our citizens. Jointly the couple sought to maintain the unity of their nation against attempts by some to divide Muslims, immigrants and other minority communities from the mainstream. The Obamas have on many occasions spoken of the need for an acceptance of differences in matters of faith from a principled position that similarly underpins the newly adopted Charter of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum

I believe the Obamas period in the White House will be looked back on as one of moderation and progressive change, a similar era, unfortunately, may not be experienced again for some time. I am not proposing we cannonise the Obamas, or declare Barack’s Presidency an untrammeled success but I do believe Dublin City Council should seek to recognise their achievements and their vision for a better fairer world.

Like President John F Kennedy before him when he challenged and overcame the white Protestant elite of America, the Obamas have established new possibilities and hope for many minority communities around the world of what can be achieved. They also sought to foster a positive relationship between Ireland (a country which both of them have connections to through their ancestors) and the US. Honouring them with the highest award we can grant – the Freedom of Dublin City - would reflect our shared commitment to a vision of a more tolerant world.

I hope this evening you can look past any faults or weaknesses you believe the Obamas may have and support me in seeking to recognise their vision and work in trying ot make this world a more tolerable and open place. For in this time of growing concern about the future of the US and the world as a whole, having Barack and Michelle Obama add their names to the illustrious role of those granted the freedom of city will set an indisputable statement of the values, goals and aspirations we the people of Dublin promote and what’s closest to our hearts.

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