Speaking ahead of the event, Enda Kenny refused to be drawn on the controversy sparked when Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley said he would boycott the event because he believes the Taoiseach is “aggressively promoting abortion legislation”.
Traditionally, the Boston archbishop delivers the final benediction at the commencement at the Jesuit-run college.
“People are perfectly entitled to their opinions,” the Taoiseach said last night.
“Boston College issues these invitations and people are entitled to either accept or not to accept.”
He said the focus should be on those who are graduating “in a world which is changing” and his speech would deliver “a message for young America”.
Mr Kenny, who is due to get an honorary doctor of laws degree from the college, said it was an “extraordinary privilege for Ireland and its people” that he was asked to deliver the address.
At an event in the city on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the visit of John F Kennedy to Ireland, Mr Kenny received strong support from the Irish-American community.
There was a standing ovation when former senator Paul Kirk — who replaced Edward Kennedy as Massachusetts senator — told the Taoiseach: “We salute you, Mr Prime Minister, for your courage.” He said Mr Kenny had chosen “to speak the unvarnished but inconvenient truth to the highest institutions of religious power on the fundamental issues of honesty, transparency, accountability and social justice”.
The event was attended by members of the Kennedy family as well as business, cultural and political leaders from the Irish community in Boston.
President of the College Democrats of Boston College, Stephanie Rice, also came out in support of Mr Kenny. “I am deeply disappointed that Cardinal O’Malley has chosen to politicise what should be a day of celebrating the four years of hard work and learning that I and my classmates have experienced at Boston College,” she said.
But the Students for Life of America said it was “shameful” that the college did not rescind the invitation following the bishop’s intervention, and plan to hold a protest and prayer vigil outside the event.
“The fact that Boston College is honouring the man who is pushing an abortion bill that will lead to the mass death of pre-born Irish children and the harm of countless women and families is unconscionable,” said SFLA president Kristan Hawkins. The group said the Irish Government was trying to introduce abortion legislation “under the guise of preventing the suicide of a pregnant woman”.