15th of April 2016
Actress and producer Roma Downey was presented with the inaugural Irish Diaspora Award - presented to her by internationally renowned Humanitarian and musician Sir Bob Geldof
The Irish Diaspora Award was presented by the Irish Academy in association with the Ministry of the Diaspora within the Department of An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) in recognition of Roma Downey's work as an Actor, Producer along with her charity and humanitarian work. The Award was presented by the legendary Irish musician and internationally renowned Humanitarian Sir Bob Geldof, to the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated Roma Downey at the 2016 IFTA Film & Drama Awards on Saturday, April 9th. The Visual Tribute to Roma on the night included clips from Regis Philbin, Oprah Winfrey, Jack Huston. MGM CEO Gary Barber, the Charity Operation Smile and the Irish Arts Centre in New York.
Bob Geldof said: “When you find a woman like Roma Downey – a Catholic girl from Derry who becomes one of the fine actresses of the United States and eventually works her way up to producing great television series such as The Bible..... This is so incredibly well-deserved and it goes with pride from every Irish person living abroad, particularly in the film and television industry.”
The prestigious Awards Ceremony with guests such as President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and Honouree Liam Neeson, showed a room full of talented Irish filmmakers with Downey sitting alongside her producer husband Mark Burnett and her close friend Van Morrison. Accepting her award on stage Downey said: “It’s really great to be back in Ireland. 25 years ago, I left Dublin for America and I couldn’t have imagined then that I would be one day producing Ben Hur, starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman, for MGM and Paramount. I’m thrilled to be back here on an Irish stage. Although most of my career has played out in the United States, I love to come home. I am from Ireland, I am a Derry girl and I am proud of it.”
The Video Tribute included a clip from Oprah Winfrey talking to Downey (and her husband Mark Burnett) on her show where Winfrey who is a fan of their epic mini-series The Bible excitedly exclaimed that The Bible was "the watercooler talk in the United States of America".
Renowned US Talk-Show Presenter Regis Philbin said: “22 years ago she came on my show and I remember that she was this woman that I met at a restaurant previously – she was the coat-check girl! And straight away I had a feeling that this Irish girl was on her way to something! All of a sudden she became a star and in America too which is a tough place to do it. Look what happened to her now – she’s all over the place.”
Áine Moriarty, CEO of the Irish Academy said: "What an inspiring Irish woman, and what a powerhouse within the Irish Diaspora. Roma Downey’s journey from county Derry to Hollywood is the stuff of dreams but also of genuine talent and hard work. Her achievements in film and TV are matched only by her compassion and interest in helping others. The Irish Academy is proud to acknowledge her extraordinary contribution.”
Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan said: “Roma Downey wholly embodies the Irish spirit. She is a dynamic and enduring force as both an actress and producer whilst also maintaining a generosity of spirit that has made her a magnificent ambassador for Ireland.”
Actor Jack Huston, who stars in Downey's upcoming epic Ben Hur said: “Coming from being an actress herself and then excelling as a producer really helps everyone. You want to make her happy because she is just wonderful. She exudes warmth and makes everyone feel like she is part of the family.”
Gary Barber, CEO of MGM said: “Roma Downey is truly one of a kind whose generosity is never-ending. She is a true inspiration and so deserving of this honour. I’m very proud to call her a friend and a colleague.”
Kathy & Bill Magee, Co-Founders and CEO of Operation Smile (a charity that helps people born with cleft lips and cleft palates, whom Downey has been ambassador of for over 20 years), said: “We were doing some filming in Vietnam for Operation Smile and I asked Roma if she could help us with that. She set the stage for our growth from that moment on.” “Roma became a catalyst for tens of millions of dollars coming to us and we have been able to touch hundreds of thousands of children and change their lives.”
Pauline Turley of the Irish Arts Center in New York said: “Roma’s contribution to the New Irish Arts Center is just phenomenal. She believes in giving back to those coming after her and that makes a huge difference worldwide.”