Ireland’s Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney TD this week announced eleven recipients of this year’s Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad, three of whom are Irish in Britain including businessman Paul Drechsler, London Irish AIDS and LGBT activist Bernard Lynch and astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
The Award was set up by the Irish government in 2012.
Announcing the recipients Tánaiste Mr Coveney said: “In their own separate ways, each of these individuals have made a remarkable contribution to Ireland and our international reputation.
“This is the eighth year in which recipients have received this Award, and the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards remains a very important opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to realising Ireland’s place as an island at the centre of the world.”
Diaspora minister Ciarán Cannon TD said there had been 189 nominations “and the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated are outstanding.”
The UK recipients are Paul Drechsler CBE for Business and Education; former priest Bernard Lynch for charitable works and astrophysicist Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell for Science and Technology.
The Awards will be presented in Dublin on 21 November by President Michael D Higgins.
Paul Drechsler, 63, is originally from Dublin and moved to Britain in 1978. He worked for Imperial Chemical Industries for 25 years (1978-2003) before becoming Chairman and Chief Executive of Wates Group, the family-owned construction firm. Since 2013 he has been Chair of the Bibby Line Group and, since 2015, President of the Confederation of British Industry.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said he had been very helpful putting Ireland’s case following the Brexit referendum.
Former priest Bernard Lynch moved from Ireland to work as a missionary priest in Africa and then to the United States in the 1970s where he served as a chaplain to Dignity/NY (for LGBT Catholics). When AIDS hit in 1981 Bernard Lynch ministered to many hundreds of those feared and shunned even by their own families at the time. Bernard stood up for equal justice for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.
He spent over twenty years in New York City before moving to London, where he has worked on HIV/Aids issues since 1992. He was a founding Co-Chair of the London Irish LGBT group.
In 2013, Bernard Lynch was the first appointee by The Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Advisory Board to represent the Irish in London LGBT community.
As a result of Bernard’s contribution, the LGBT community today is fully integrated into London’s St. Patrick’s Festival.
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, originally from Northern Ireland, is a world renowned astrophysicist, whose discovery of radio pulsars in 1967, is considered to be one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the twentieth century. The discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, but Professor Bell Burnell was not one of the recipients of the prize.
She is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and in February 2018 was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee.
Other recipients are:
Ian Gibson (Spain) and Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly (US) for Arts, Culture and Sport; Michael Kenneally and Rhona Richman Kenneally (Canada) for Business and Education; Fr. Patrick Clarke (Brazil) for charitable works; Jackie Donohoe (US) for Irish Community Support; Sally O’Neill Sanchez (deceased, Honduras) for Peace, Reconciliation and Development; and William Howlett (Tanzania) for Science and Technology.