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Former Congressman Joe Kennedy III Discusses Finding Political Common Ground at IOP Forum

Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at an IOP forum. Kennedy discussed political differences and consensus during the event on Tuesday evening.
Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III speaks at an IOP forum. Kennedy discussed political differences and consensus during the event on Tuesday evening. By Marina Qu
By Adithya V. Madduri, Ava H. Rem, and William G. Sykes, Contributing Writers

Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.) discussed the importance of respecting political differences and forging consensus — drawing on his experience as United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland — at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Tuesday evening.

The event, which marked the kickoff of the President John F. Kennedy Leadership Series, was moderated by IOP Director Setti D. Warren and Celia T. Rees ’26.

During the event, Kennedy discussed his great-uncle John F. Kennedy’s leadership style which he said allowed for respectful dissent amid political turmoil in the early 1960s.

Kennedy said leadership requires “a give and take.”

“That means there has to be a willingness to accept difference, and I worry at times now that we’re in a society where that isn’t as valued as it perhaps used to be,” he said.

Kennedy called on Americans to learn from political leaders in Northern Ireland. He shared an anecdote about two women in the country’s executive branch who supported each other politically despite coming from “different religions, different traditions, different experiences, different histories, different visions for where they want Northern Ireland to be.”

“That’s a pretty remarkable thing,” Kennedy said. “I think to our system today — gosh what we could learn from that.”

Kennedy stressed the importance of people focusing on their shared aspirations for the future in spite of historical differences.

“In order to live in a shared space, that future is going to be shared as well,” he said.

Beyond his work in Northern Ireland, Kennedy also talked about his experience as president of his family’s non-profit Citizens Energy Corporation, which works on providing affordable heating and energy to poor and elderly homes.

“We can mobilize tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars back to local communities without increasing ratepayers by a dime and actually treat those communities as stakeholders, because they are,” Kennedy said.

In response to an audience question, Kennedy also addressed the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict by drawing on his experience as special envoy and linking Northern Ireland’s journey toward peace to the current conflict in the Middle East.

“That space in Northern Ireland, that space in the Middle East, is going to be a shared space,” Kennedy said.

“People that have lived there for thousands of years are going to continue living there, and there needs to be a reality put in place that can allow for differing visions as to what the outcome of this will be to live in peace and prosperity,” he added.

Kennedy concluded by giving advice to those in the audience thinking about running for political office.

“We need you,” he said. “Like every system, we get out of it what we put into it. If we don’t put good people into it, we don’t get good things out of it. Full stop.”

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IOPPoliticsHarvard Kennedy School