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Edward Kennedy's now a knight, but not all Britain bows

March 4, 2009 |  9:50 am

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a formal address to Congress this morning, announced that Queen Elizabeth has conferred honorary knighthood on Sen. Edward Kennedy, the veteran Massachusetts Democrat who's battling brain cancer.

The 77-year-old brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and son of the former ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, is being honored for his role in swaying Irish American public opinion during the Northern Ireland peace process.

View C-SPAN video where Brown says:

Northern Ireland is today at peace, more Americans have healthcare, more children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Congress responded by giving Brown a standing ovation. But in London, some critics questioned the move.

“I have to question the appropriateness of the award,” said Tory Michael Ancram, who served as a junior minister in Ulster. “I was surprised because those who really helped in Northern Ireland, like George Mitchell, made it clear they worked for both parts of the community, whereas Ted Kennedy visibly supported one part, the Republican [separatist] movement.”

In the Senate for 46 years, Kennedy has survived the assassinations of his older brothers, JFK and Robert Kennedy. He was almost killed in a plane crash in 1964 that left him with permanent back pain. His political future was clouded by an accident at Chappaquiddick. He drove a car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick in 1969, swimming to safety and abandoning his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, who died trapped in the sunken car.

Kennedy -- an early and ardent supporter of Barack Obama's presidential bid -- has ever since sought to carve out a record as a champion of children and working Americans, chairing the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and spearheading efforts to reform healthcare.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Video courtesy of C-SPAN.

Photo: Young Edward Kennedy, right, stands with former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and his brother, then Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, at the funeral of slain President John F. Kennedy. Credit: Hulton Archive of Getty Images