Yesterday, it was announced that an honorary knighthood is to be awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy. This has resulted in criticism by some conservatives.
Senator Edward Kennedy
Leading the criticism from conservatives is Lord Tebbit who has gone on record in the Daily Mail saying as follows
“Edward Kennedy may never have said outwardly he supported the IRA but he certainly leaned towards extreme Republicanism. He was certainly no friend of the UK. This honour is wholly inappropriate on the basis of the sleaze attached to him after the crash at Chappaquiddick, let alone his support for nationalism in Northern Ireland. It cheapens the whole honours system”
Edward Kennedy and many others from his family have been associated with a desire for a United Ireland. With respect to Lord Tebbit, I do not see what the crime is here. We have already had a Nationalist (the late Lord Fitt) appointed a Lord. Opposition to the Union is not fatal to awarding an honour and nor should it be. Today, the Conservative Party is about tolerance. That includes political as well as religious tolerance.
The second strand of Tebbit’s criticism is the crash at Chappaquiddick. The incident referred to happened 40 years ago. It was a tragic accident. There were suspicions as to whether Kennedy had acted sufficiently bravely to try and save the victim but again; there is no evidence that Kennedy committed a crime.
Having dispensed with the negatives, what is the real reason why Kennedy has been awarded an honorary knighthood? He did support the peace process. Whilst it continued, he did use his influence on the Irish American community to considerable effect to bring those people behind the agreement. Was this significant enough to merit the award? Before answering that question, how significant was it to the UK?
It is well known that the IRA was able to raise funds for its campaign from that community. Without the Irish American community supporting the peace process, dissident Republicans could have filled the vacuum left behind at the end of violent conflict. The answer has to be ‘very significant’
I am not a great fan of Teddy Kennedy. However, on the basis of his campaign, he has made a significant contribution to peace. Does that merit a knighthood?
It is easy to be critical of Gordon Brown but we need to stand back and look at the wider picture. Addressing the Congress, Mr. Brown said this
“Northern Ireland today is at peace, more Americans have healthcare, children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of senator Edward Kennedy.”
Clearly, the award is recognising benefits to people outside the UK. That is appropriate too. Remember the good work done by Bob Geldof. The knighthood does have diplomatic merit to add to the achievement. Knighthoods have been awarded for both greater and lesser achievements. Kennedy is a long-serving senator in the party of Government in the USA. His health is very poor. From a diplomatic point of view, the award is timely. It is a symbol of Britain’s continuing relationship with America. For all of those reasons, I agree with the award.
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