In a landmark address Tuesday to the Irish Senate, or Seanad Éireann, Gov. Maura Healey lauded recent LGBTQ+ triumphs in Ireland and the United States as a unifying force and a source of political and economic strength moving forward.
“It was not so long ago when the story of Irish American unity and the story of gay liberation would never have been told together,” Healey said. “I’m here to say they are the stories of the same people — threads of the same fabric that have forever bound us and will bind us across time, and strengthen our mutual futures.”
Healey was the first U.S. governor to address the Irish Senate.
At the outset of her speech, which marked the 30th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland, Healey noted that LGBTQ+ communities in both countries have seen a number of other landmark victories as well in recent years, including the advent of marriage equality in Massachusetts 19 years ago and the affirmation, eight years ago, of the right to same-sex marriage by both the U.S. Supreme Court and Irish voters.
At that point, her reflections took a more personal turn.
“I can arrive in Ireland as the out governor of Massachusetts and make my first stop at a Pride reception at the U.S. embassy last evening,” Healey said. “I can speak as a guest here today in this chamber … I can meet later this week with the Taoiseach [Leo Varkadar, the Irish prime minister] elected as a gay man in 2017.”
Healey, who is attempting to bolster Ireland’s trade ties with Massachusetts on her first international trade mission, also advanced an argument that’s become a staple of her economic-development pitch. In addition to allowing people to live their lives as fully and authentically as possible, she contends, the openness and tolerance on display in places like Ireland and Massachusetts are also a source of economic strength.
“In our business development meetings, I can tell prospective workers and students, employers or investors, who are out there looking to make a life in Massachusetts or Ireland that whomever you are and whomever you love you will be welcome, you will be embraced, you will be respected,” Healey said.
“That’s a competitive advantage in today’s world,” she continued. “It’s one that Massachusetts and Ireland welcome and embrace.”
Healey also spoke at length about her own Irish ancestry, and suggested that moral lessons learned from her forebears have shaped her approach to politics.
“I was raised with the values that they passed on,” Healey said. “Love of family. Taking responsibility, as well, for the welfare of your broader community. Looking out for those who need a helping hand and extending it. I’m grateful for this gift.”
Yet Healey’s tone was not entirely optimistic. At one point, after discussing LGBTQ+ progress in Ireland and the United States, she described young people struggling with mental health partly thanks to “voices of hate and vitriol and division around them, threatening their very lives and futures.”
“We must stand strong and never go backwards,” Healey said.
Healey also described the international political moment as especially fraught, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate change crisis, and the rise of authoritarian movements that utilize “scapegoating, exploitation and division.”
“We must stand together now, not only to celebrate our progress, but to meet these challenges,” Healey said. “We are stronger in that work because more of us are able to contribute our whole selves to the effort. Let us never take this achievement for granted.”
Healey’s speech was warmly received by the senators and several dozen observers watching from the Seanad Éireann chambers. She was given standing ovations before and after she spoke and then fulsomely praised by several senators, including Labour’s Annie Hoey, who described Healey as a welcome beacon of hope in the often bleak U.S. political landscape.
“When we hear news of the United States, it can sometimes be very depressing, like we’re watching sometimes one of the world’s largest democracies fade away,” Hoey said. “And I think that’s why it’s so important that we hear from governors like yourself who aren’t afraid of speaking out, of challenging the federal government on things we really shouldn’t [have to] be contesting in the first place.”
Hoey praised Healey’s move to stockpile mifepristone, a drug used for medical abortions, when a Texas judge’s ruling called its continued availability into question earlier this year. Hoey also said political pushback is brewing in Ireland after a 2018 landslide vote that legalized abortion.
“I think we have to look at the U.S., unfortunately, as somewhat of a canary in the coalmine,” Hoey said. “Because we are seeing the same language surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the trans community, rise here as it has done in the U.S. … I’s so important [that] we have people like you, governor.”
Sen. Jerry Buttimer, who is the Irish Senate’s Cathaoirleach, or judge of order, had given Healey a glowing introduction before her speech that included personal reminiscences about living and working in Massachusetts decades ago.
Later, Buttimer closed the proceedings by proposing that, if Healey ever occupies the White House, she can return the hospitality the Irish Senate extended her Tuesday — a suggestion that will likely stoke speculation about Healey’s political future just half a year into her first gubernatorial term.