Chair of Irish PEN, Joe Armstrong’s speech, at Irish PEN Award Ceremony, 10 February, 2012
I welcome President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina, Joseph O’Connor and his wife Anne Marie Casey, and his parents, Sean and Viola O’Connor. I welcome the Director of PEN International, Laura McVeigh and her husband Howard, all our distinguished writers, publishers, members of the media, guests and friends, and each and every one of you. Thank you for being here tonight.
PEN promotes literature and defends free speech. The empty chair at tonight’s dinner symbolises the 888 writers who, during 2011, were killed, ‘disappeared’, imprisoned or were harassed solely because of their work.
Given our commitment to free speech, PEN campaigns to have blasphemy, which is repugnant to free speech, removed from the Irish Constitution and decriminalized. We welcome the Government’s commitment to review blasphemy in its promised constitutional convention.
I thank the Arts Council and Dublin City Arts Office for their ongoing support. I thank writing.ie and Vanessa O’Loughlin for sponsoring the beautiful Irish PEN trophy for tonight’s event. I thank the Royal St George Yacht Club for hosting us at this lovely venue. I thank the Irish PEN Committee for all their hard and voluntary work throughout the year: Carol Robinson Tweed, Christine Murray, Emer Liston, Kay Boland, Máire Moriarty, Ruth Long, Tony Gaughan and Vanessa O’Loughlin. I thank the dinner subcommittee, Kay Boland, Ruth Long and Vanessa O’Loughlin for all their hard and painstaking work in preparing for tonight’s happy celebration.
I am delighted that Joseph O’Connor is to be presented with the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature and I heartily congratulate you, Joseph.
Finally – President Higgins – as well as being a poet and an author, you have long been a champion of human rights, an inclusive citizenship, a creative society and a real Republic – values central to the mission of PEN.
In any voluntary organisation, sometimes record-keeping isn’t the best and so I am delighted to renew the honorary membership of President Higgins and I now invite the President to speak.