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Speech at the New York Stock Exchange Post Bell Reception

 

It is a pleasure to visit this wonderful institution, in this great City of New York, the financial capital of the world.

It was an honour to be invited to ring the closing bell and bring to an end the day’s trading – well, at least the official end to trading - no doubt, in the City that doesn’t sleep, trading continues albeit unofficially long before and long after normal trading hours.

Let me start this evening, however, by expressing my deepest sympathy on the terrible loss of life and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The Irish people have all been shocked and saddened by the extent of the devastation and at a time like this, our thoughts and prayers must be with the victims, their families and their friends.  We can only imagine what they are going through. 

Ireland and the United States have always enjoyed a uniquely close friendship and, in difficult periods, it is particularly important that friends support one another.  As you in the American Ireland Fund have helped us over the years, we are now committed to extending our support to the efforts to bring relief to the victims of this terrible natural disaster.  

We are directing financial support through the American Red Cross as well as to community based organisations working in the region. We have also been working to respond to a US request for assistance to the European Union.  Through this channel, we have been able to offer essential materials such as first aid kits and ready-to-eat meals as well as specialist personnel.

Let me assure you that in the difficult weeks and months ahead, Ireland will continue to offer support and solidarity to the United States and our thoughts and prayers will remain focused on the people whose lives and communities have been so devastated by this terrible catastrophe.

The closeness of the Irish-American relationship is self evident this evening as we are gathered here as guests of the American Ireland Fund.

The Fund has gone through a period of phenomenal growth in recent years. Last year, it successfully completed its Hope and History campaign and this year, the Fund held the most successful event in its history, the New York Gala Dinner.

I know all of you here are strong supporters of the American Ireland Fund. The Wall Street community has contributed hugely to its success.  The Wall Street and Financial Services community has shown, over many years, consistent support and generosity to Ireland.  This generosity has enabled the Fund to support in the region of 250 projects a year across the island of Ireland, promoting peace and reconciliation, supporting education, cross community projects and helping to preserve and enhance Ireland’s unique heritage and culture.

Could I particularly acknowledge those of you working in Wall Street of Irish and Irish-American background. We are hugely proud of your achievements here. Over the past 15 to 20 years, we have developed a strong focus in Ireland on the financial services sector and it is now a critical and very successful part of our economy. I would like to think that the trail blazed by the Irish in Wall Street, the gold standard in the sector globally, has been an important catalyst and inspiration in helping us to achieve that success. We look forward to working closely together in the sector to our mutual benefit in the period ahead.

I am pleased to say that the Irish economy continues to register solid and impressive growth. There is virtually full employment including high levels of job creation, rising incomes and a satisfactory inflation rate. Our growth rate continues to outperform most of the developed economies.  There are of course risks to be faced, such as rising energy prices, but we are in a good position to continue to succeed.

Despite the extraordinary economic developments in Ireland over the past decade, I know, as a politician, that there is always more to be done.  In this regard, the Fund continues to direct support to those who are on the margins of society, thus enabling them to share more fully in the benefits of the Celtic Tiger.

We in Ireland are fortunate to have such good friends in the United States. Successive administrations, including that of President George W. Bush, have supported, and continue to support, peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. 

When I last visited the United States, on St Patrick’s Day, we were in the middle of a very difficult and dark period in the peace process.  I made it very clear then that we needed to see a clear and decisive end to all paramilitary and criminal activity and the completion of decommissioning.

Since then, we have worked hard to bring that about.  The IRA have now said that they will do what I asked of them, indeed what was asked of them by the people of Ireland and our friends in this great country and around the world.  If those words are borne out by actions, it will indeed be a historic and momentous development.

Since coming to office, I have devoted myself to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation and prosperity on the island of Ireland. I have never, for one moment, regretted the time and effort I have spent on the peace process. It has been, and will remain, a central priority for me and my Government. There have been frustrations and there have been disappointments. In particular, the recent upsurge of loyalist violence is a cause of real concern.  But no one can deny the fundamental progress that has been made.  We must preserve and continue to build on this progress. 

I look forward to the forthcoming reports from the Independent International Commission of Decommissioning and the Independent Monitoring Commission.  If these reports are positive, it will help build public confidence and create the conditions where the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement can be fully restored and we can move forward on all other aspects of the process.  And all going well, the programme of British demilitarisation, which has already been announced, will be completed within the next two years.

I know, of course, that there will always be challenges and I am committed to managing those challenges in close partnership with Prime Minister Blair.  If the threat of violence – from both sides – is removed, we need to seize the opportunity to accelerate the process of reconciliation.  We need to build the trust and mutual respect that are the bedrock of a shared future for both traditions on the island of Ireland. 

As this audience will understand very well, there are problems of economics as well as politics.  The island of Ireland faces huge challenges in the globalised economy.  We may have done well in recent years but North and South need to be working even closer together if we are to keep pace.  The restoration of the institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would be of enormous mutual benefit in meeting these challenges. 

As two countries, we stand side by side in times of need. We will never forget what America has done to help Ireland down through the generations and to this day.  For their part, Irish people at home in Ireland and indeed throughout the world would in turn this evening want me to gratefully acknowledge this and to express our wholehearted solidarity and support at this difficult and challenging time. 

Let me conclude by thanking New York, thanking Wall Street and thanking the American Ireland Fund.                                 

ENDS.