Irish Examiner View: A real force in NI peace deal talks - Jean Kennedy Smith

Irish Examiner View: A real force in NI peace deal talks - Jean Kennedy Smith
Jean Kennedy Smith in her office in the American Embassy in Dublin in 1997 Photo: RollingNews.ie

Jean Kennedy Smith, who has died aged 92, served as America’s ambassador to Ireland for the five years that preceded the 1998 Belfast peace agreement.

In that half-decade, she used charm, soft power backed by real power, to chide, to encourage, to reassure the participants in those talks that any risk they might take was far outweighed by the good an agreement would bring to their communities. She made a significant contribution to a process that offered her no immediate benefits.

Her contribution was recognised: She was awarded honorary citizenship of Ireland in 1998.

From a selfishly Irish perspective, that might have been the high-water mark of Kennedy Smith’s career, but from a humanitarian perspective, she did much more.

She was a lifelong champion of people with disabilities and the founder of Very Special Arts, a non-profit organisation that promotes the artistic talents of all those with a disability. It is affiliated with the John F Kennedy Center.

Indeed, it is a profound tribute to her life’s work that societal obligations to those with disabilities are now unquestioned — a very, very different situation to the one that prevailed when she was born almost a century ago. It is a tribute to her that as her life’s work is remembered, the fact that she was the last of the Kennedy siblings — brothers John, Bobby, and Ted, sisters Eunice and Patricia — is almost a footnote, even if a glittering, often tragic, one.

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