Tributes have poured in from around the world for Edward Kennedy — recognised for the role he played in helping to create the Northern Ireland peace process.
The death of the Senator, aged 77, after a long battle with a brain tumour brings to an end one of the most famous and celebrated political dynasties in US history.
Mr Kennedy, brother of John and Robert Kennedy, was a leading figure in US and international politics for more than 40 years. President Barack Obama said he was “heartbroken” to hear of his death.
“An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time,” the US leader said. Kennedy will be remembered for his involvement in the peace process leading to the Good Friday Agreement
It was his influence that persuaded President Bill Clinton to grant a visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in the run-up to the IRA ceasefire of 1994.
Former SDLP leader and Nobel Laureate John Hume said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, a great friend of Ireland. I extend my sincerest sympathy to his wide circle of family and friends.
“Senator Kennedy was an outstanding supporter of our peace process. His commitment to Ireland was strong and positive, while peace and justice were always at the top of his agenda.”
Robinson and McGuinness offer condolences
First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last night offered their condolences to the Kennedy family following the death of Senator Kennedy.
Mr Robinson said: “Edward Kennedy was a politician of world renown whose influence was felt across the world including Northern Ireland.
“I may not always have agreed with his politics but his commitment to non-violence and to the success of devolved government was unquestionable in recent years.”
Mr McGuinness added: “The passing of Edward Kennedy will be felt by many across the world, and in particular the Irish diaspora in America.
“Senator Kennedy played a central role in American domestic political life and contributed significantly to the development of the peace process here.”
He added: “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his dedication to the creation of a better society for everyone here.
“I would like to pass my deepest condolences to the Kennedy family.”
Hume: Ted was stalwart of peace
Nobel Laureate John Hume has spoken of his “deep sadness” after the death of Edward Kennedy who he considered a close personal friend as well as a “great friend of Ireland”.
The former SDLP leader led words of praise and condolence from members of his party which had strong links with the US Democrat throughout the peace process. Mr Hume said: “Senator Kennedy was an outstanding supporter of our peace process. His commitment to Ireland was strong and positive while peace and justice was always at the top of his agenda.”
SDLP leader Mark Durkan knew Sen Kennedy well, having worked as an intern for him in 1985. He described him as a “bulwark of the peace process”.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he learnt of the death of Mr Kennedy with great sadness. “He has served the American people with courage and commitment for nearly 50 years. His service to Ireland through his role in the peace process was exceptional,” he said.
Unique figure in the politics of Ireland and US
David Gordon assesses how Kennedy was viewed by our politicians
The question of what might have been hangs over the legacy of the Kennedy dynasty.
What kind of Presidency would JFK have delivered if he had dodged an assassin's bullets in Dallas in 1963?
He may have been able to live up to the hype and the heady optimism of the Sixties.
But it's also more than possible that disillusionment would have slowly set in, not least with the spectre of the Vietnam War looming.
Brother Bobby might have had similar trouble fulfilling the hopes and expectations that were being invested in him as he made his bid for the White House.
Ted Kennedy was also unable to realise his full political potential. In his case, though, it was down to his own actions.
The 1969 Chappaquiddick scandal helped derail his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the 1980 Presidential race.
Even if he had seen off Jimmy Carter for that nomination, the circumstances surrounding Mary Jo Kopechne's death would surely have been raised time and again in the ensuing |battle with Ronald Reagan.
Ted Kennedy's womanising and drinking antics damaged his standing in subsequent years. It led to him becoming a figure of fun and the butt of jokes on late night chatshows.
The legendary — and very sleazy — Mayor Quimby character on The Simpsons bears more than a passing resemblance.
His reputation improved in recent years as his private life became much more settled.
He will be remembered as a highly effective legislator with an ability to strongly champion causes and build political alliances to advance them.
To Democrats he was an inspiration — a standard bearer who kept the torch burning during the periods of Reagan and Bush.
In this small part of the world opinion was divided, to say the least. Irish Catholics have long regarded the Kennedys with great pride and affection. To northern nationalists Ted Kennedy was a leading friend of Ireland and an important contact in the US corridors of power.
But he was close to being a hate figure among many Ulster Protestants.
This writer can recall him being denounced as a “murderer” from a televised unionist platform in relation to Chappaquiddick.
Such sentiments seemed to fade over the years, and there was little or no controversy over his attendance at the May 2007 Stormont event to mark the return of power-sharing devolution.
Kennedy's own views on Ireland had evolved over time. He advocated a troops out policy at an early stage of the Troubles but subsequently became a close ally of John Hume and the SDLP. He supported the fledgling peace process in the 1990s, pressing for a US visa for Gerry Adams in the run-up to the 1994 IRA ceasefire.
The visa decision is described by pundits as a crucial building block and Kennedy had a key role in persuading President Clinton to make the move.
He was also highly critical of the John Major Government for its response to the IRA cessation.
Some 10 years later he snubbed Adams in Washington, instead meeting the sisters of Robert McCartney, the Belfast Catholic believed to have been murdered by members of the IRA in 2005. The symbolism of that stance was not lost on Sinn Fein or unionists.
Kennedy in his own words
In his words, as in life, senator Edward Kennedy was a politician unafraid to address issues in a direct and occasionally controversial manner.
Here is a selection of his most memorable quotes.
- “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die” - Addressing the Democratic National Convention after pulling out of the presidential race, August 1980.
- “Frankly, I don't mind not being president. I just mind that someone else is” - At Washington Gridiron Club dinner, March 1986.
- “Well, here I don't go again” - On not running for president in 1988.
- “Ulster is becoming Britain's Vietnam” - On The Troubles in Northern Ireland, October 1971
- “My brother need not be idealised or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it” - Eulogy for Robert Kennedy, June 1968.
- “I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately” - During a televised statement after he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident in regards to the Chappaquiddick incident, July 1969
- “What we have in the United States is not so much a health-care system as a disease-care system” - On health care reform for which he campaigned throughout his life, 1994
- “With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay” - Endorsing Barack Obama for president, January 2008.
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