Taoiseach calls for honours system

By Brian Keogh

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern wants Ireland to have an honours system that recognises heroes like golfer Padraig Harrington.

Britain has knighted Irish citizens such as Bono, Bob Geldof, Michael Smurfit, Terry Wogan and Tony O'Reilly in recent years.

And Ahern in convinced that Ireland should find a way of honouring people who make "an enormous contribution to Irish life."

Speaking at a reception in honour of Open winner Harrington, the Taoiseach said: "We have looked at this a number of times. But because we are a republic, we don't have an honours list.

"Other republics , such as France, have different formats of doing this. Back in 1997 and '98 I tired again to get an all-party agreement on a national honours list for people, not just from sport, but also community leaders and people in the arts and business.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't get an all party agreement. I was in favour of it then and I am still in favour of it."

Harrington's Open victory at Carnoustie - the first by an Irishman for 60 years - was hailed by the Taoiseach as "an achievement that easily ranks alongside the greatest in our country’s great sporting history."

And he is determined to find a way of honouring all of Ireland's unsung heroes.

He said: "We are increasingly seeing the British are honouring Irish citizens and there have been a number of them in the last five years.

"We should have a national way of honouring not just stars but people who make an enormous contribution to Irish life.

"The only thing we have is Gaisce - the President's Award - and maybe there is some way that you could enhance that.

"There have been four attempts since the 1930s to do this and they have all failed. But he should devise some way of enhancing either the President's awards or having a national award for people of extraordinary achievement.

"I think we should honour, not just superstars, but exceptional people in the community or arts or whatever it might be.

"Padraig has been an enormous ambassador for Ireland for over a decade."

While he is an honorary member of dozens of Irish golf clubs, Ahern has no intention of taking up the game seriously.

He said: "I do the beginners course about twice a year and I have been doing that for about 20 years.

"All my friends and my brothers are into golf but it just the time factor. I work at the weekends and I don't take Sundays off."

Harrington was joined at government building by his wife Caroline, family members and close friends.

Paying tribute to his Open victory, Ahern said: " It truly was a privilege to watch you rise to the occasion in the climax to one of the finest British Opens in history.

"I am not to sure whether I ended up jumping in the air or on my knees praying. I think I was doing the same as 90 percent of the Irish nation."

Harrington was delighted to be formally congratulated for his first major victory.

The Dubliner beamed: "Winning the Open on Sunday was one of the most special occasions but it is events like this that put the icing on the cake. To come here and be formally congratulated by the Taoiseach and by the government of Ireland is very special for me.

"I would like to formally thank all my supporters in Ireland, all my fans in Ireland and all the people of Ireland for all their support over the years."