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Remarks by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, 25th National Gala of the Ireland Funds America, The National Building Museum, Washington DC, Wednesday 15th March 2017

 

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Opening remarks
Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Senator Mitchell, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening all.

Well, here we are. 25 years. Your silver anniversary national gala.

The Ireland Funds dinner is a highlight of every St. Patrick’s Day visit to America.

In fact it’s more than that. It’s like coming home…

Home to family, home to friends.

For the last six years you have opened your hearts to Fionnuala and me as Taoiseach and I thank you for that honour.

In politics as in life, we need our friends.

More importantly we appreciate them, we depend on them.

Over the years you have been magnificent friends to Ireland and we appreciate that at home greatly.

We should remember Dan Rooney and Tony O’Reilly in this regard, for their vision in setting up the Ireland Funds.

The projects you undertook, the terrific opportunities you gave to individuals and communities have changed lives and life across our country.

They include integrated education which educate Catholic and Protestant children together in Northern Ireland and rescuing them from the prejudice of the past.

They also provide support to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland which matches business and entrepreneurial skills to create social enterprises with not just a social impact but an economic one also. An example of this is Music Generation. A project supported also by the Government and U2 to offer music education to 30,000 children across Ireland and which has created over 330 jobs.

The peace you pursued brought dignity, prosperity.

Time and again the cultural projects you believed in unearthed our true riches.

John, Kieran you are all set for yet another extraordinary year. Congratulations to you and all the team.

Donors, be proud of your association with the Ireland Funds and to the worthy causes they support.

Ireland Fund Honourees
The three people we honour here tonight not only kept going in their work, they never stopped it seems even to breathe.

They are, of course, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator George Mitchell and Ireland’s Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson.

Senator George Mitchell
George – to us in Ireland - you are in every sense of the word a legend.

Son of immigrant stock, the United States gave you the opportunity to contribute; as a judge, as a Senator and as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995.

It is because of leaders like you that 20 year-olds in Northern Ireland see what we euphemistically call ‘The Troubles’ as history.

They were babies then, the children, the teens, now the young adults of your peace.

When George speaks it is always to raise and to praise the other, it is never to speak about himself.

So it is we who must speak about him and for him.

In all his work for Ireland he had the capacity not just to hear but to listen. He showed infinite patience, never failing courtesy, courage in the face of crisis, and a clear vision of what might be. That was how he succeeded in the Good Friday Agreement, so fragile and yet so strong, so important and so relevant.

But perhaps one of the most fitting testimonies to George Mitchell is that young men from the New Lodge or the Shankill can walk home from a night out, sit on the wall outside their homes, eat their fish and chips.

And instead of looking around them, to make sure they are safe, they can look up at Orion or the Plough.

They can look up not at the green white and orange or the red white and blue that defined them but at the stars that made them.

George Mitchell this is what you did. We thank you for it. You have repaid your forefathers a thousand fold.

Vice President Mike Pence
This evening I had the great pleasure to meet George’s co-honouree Vice-President Mike Pence, a family of immigrant stock to the United States.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with him and his wife Karen particularly at the traditional St Patrick’s breakfast tomorrow, where we celebrate the long relationship between our two great nations.

The Vice President has joined the distinguished list of Irish Americans who have occupied the highest political offices in the United States. We take special pride in the fact that, for the first time in the history of this great republic, one Irish American has succeeded another in the office of Vice President.

The United States now gives another immigrant son the opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of our common humanity. I know you will grasp that unique opportunity with both hands.

I also know that Vice President Pence has been a regular – in fact I would say a diligent – visitor to Ireland.

He has spoken beautifully about his trips to Ireland as a teenager, helping out on the family farm in Sligo, and the family pub in Clare. Clearly, these experiences have stayed in his heart in a distinguished career both in Congress and as Governor of Indiana.

I am delighted to know that VP Pence's mother Nancy Pence Fritsch has travelled specifically to be with us today. Nancy it is a pleasure to have you in our company.

You must be very proud of your son who has achieved so much and now occupies such a high profile office in the US.

It is also a pleasure to welcome Vice President Pence's sisters Annie and Mary who travelled with Nancy for this special occasion.

Ambassador Anne Anderson
Someone I have had the honour and pleasure of working with for some time, is our own Ambassador to Washington, Anne Anderson.

Anne, not only have you been the consummate diplomat, you have been wonderfully kind to me, Fionnuala and my staff whenever we visit.

It means a lot to us. Go raibh maith agat.

As you may know, Anne retires later this year after a distinguished diplomatic career in which she has been Ambassador to the European Union, to France, to the United Nations, and now finally here in Washington, DC.

After 45 years of service to her country and international diplomacy, there are no glass ceilings left for her to shatter.

Anne, I wish you, Frank, and Claire the very best as you start a new chapter of your lives.

Undocumented Irish
And indeed Ireland and America begin new chapters in their national lives.

Ireland prepares an EU without our friend and neighbour, Britain.

America begins a new administration, a new Presidency.
But as we do we must keep our attention on the perennial issues for every democracy.

Here in the US, on this trip, our focus is on our Undocumented Irish, who are building their lives here and with it building the life of America.

You know them. I know them. They work hard. They give to America. They love America. Many have died for America.

They just want to be given the chance to do their bit and have it recognised officially by the United States, as part of immigration reform.

In this country and nation of immigrants they want to come out of the shadows and into the sun, into the warmth of the American institutions and nation.

And over the days of our visit, we will raise with Congress and with President Trump himself, that the necessary work be done for our Undocumented to come in from the cold, and feel the warmth of this great country they have made their home.

Ireland and America have a long and special relationship.

One that goes wider and deeper than the politician who brings the shamrock to Washington.

In fact, we politicians are immaterial to that Irish-American relationship because it’s one of hope and history, affection and trust, family and friendship.

We nations are as we say in Irish, fite fuaite.

Strongly interlinked not only by travel or business or the economy, but more crucially, in the territory of the heart, soul, imagination.

Because when Irishmen and Irishwomen fled our shores because of occupation, or oppression or famine, America opened its doors to them and to us.

We were those tired, those poor, those huddled masses.

Lady Liberty opened up her golden door and the Irish opened up their skills and their diligence, their talents and their hearts to America.

We broadened each other’s horizons. We enriched each other’s views and lives.

Which is precisely what has happened with the Ireland Funds.

Let me also, on this night remember particularly Lew Glucksman. Like Loretta he has a special place in our hearts.

They have both been magnificent friends to Ireland.

Lew also said that he lived by Tennyson’s words, believing as human beings we are
“still strong in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”.

“Come my friends tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

A world always stronger because it is better and kinder.

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig oraibh go leir.

ENDS