A Dublin woman who has worked tirelessly for 20 years to help Russian orphans was today awarded one of the nation’s highest honours.
President Vladimir Putin presented To Children With Love founder Debbie Deegan with the Order of Friendship award at a special ceremony in the Kremlin.
The medal, offered to foreign citizens for outstanding achievements in building cultural and humanitarian bridges with Russia, was in recognition of her charity’s decades of work helping the country’s most vulnerable children.
Speaking to Dublin Live just moments after the ceremony, the Clontarf mum said she had no reservations about accepting an award from one of the world’s most controversial leaders.
Debbie said: “I don’t give a hoot what goes on in the politics of the world. We have committed ourselves to helping children who don’t have parents and that’s all we do. We’re not political, we’re not religious. It’s always worked for us that way.” She added: “The media paints such a negative picture of Putin and Russia and its infuriating. We’re 20 years working here and they have always been so hospitable to us. They’ve trusted us to go into any orphanage we’ve ever wanted to go into and opened any door we’ve ever wanted to open. I take my hat off to them for trusting us with that. If Ireland had done the same thing 50 years ago we wouldn’t have all the abuse stories we have today.”
The 54-year-old charity boss said she found Putin ‘warm, engaging and very appreciative”. In fact, the pair got on so well that she’s even offered to show him around Ireland. Debbie revealed “He’s mad into fishing, so I said to him he should come to the west of Ireland on a fishing trip and that I would organise it for him. He thought it was a really good idea. I don’t know if he could do it really because the security around him is unbelievable but he said maybe”.
Debbie added she was looking forward to ‘collapsing’ for a few hours after dashing from her daughter’s wedding in Connemara to the airport to make it to Moscow in time for the awards banquet. She said “My daughter got married the day before yesterday in Ballynahinch Castle. We had to leg it out of Connemara yesterday to catch a flight last night. We got here at 5am this morning and a few hours later I was sitting down to dinner with Vladimir Putin on my left and the Russian Pope on my right. “No dinner party I’ll ever go to again in my life will compare to that!”.