BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Remarks by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Speaker’s Lunch, 16 March 2017

 

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Mr. Speaker,

Mr. President,
Mr. Vice President,
Members of Congress, Friends of Ireland,
Distinguished Guests

Is cúis áthais dom, agus do mo bhean chéile Fionnuala, bheith anseo libh inniu.

Ar son rialtais agus muintir na hÉireann, beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir.

Introduction

It is a great pleasure to be back with you in this historic setting to join with so many friends of Ireland to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

The presence of so many distinguished political leaders here is living proof of the unique ties that bind this country and Ireland.

Let me congratulate our host Paul Ryan who is a long standing friend of Ireland on his re-election as Speaker. I had the great pleasure of meeting him in Dublin in 2014 when he and members of his family travelled down to Graiguenamanagh Co Kilkenny, to visit his ancestral home and indeed to meet with distant cousins.

I had the great privilege just now of presenting the Speaker with a piece of sculpture entitled ‘Arrival’ by John Behan, one of our most distinguished Irish artists.

This piece is a replica of a larger work donated as a gift from Ireland to the United Nations to commemorate the contribution Irish emigrants have made throughout the world.

I would like also to congratulate President Trump on his election and to thank him for so graciously agreeing to attend this event, continuing this great tradition which goes back to the era of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. We have not yet identified any Irish family roots of the President, but we are working on that! But he does have an Irish connection through Doonbeg in beautiful Co. Clare. And I very much appreciate his taking the time to join us here today. Thank you sir!

EU-US Relationship
I am glad to say, as I did here last year, that Ireland's economic recovery continues. Last year our economy grew by 5.2% and employment is at the highest level since 2008.

And in this context it is worth mentioning the significant contribution that Irish firms make to the US economy. More than 700 Irish owned companies export to USA, an estimated 65% of these having a full time presence in the market.

At the same time, many US firms have chosen Ireland as their preferred European location, as an access point to markets of the European Union and beyond.

This two-way relationship between us demonstrates the benefits to the US of its relationship with Ireland as a committed member of the European Union.

Membership of the European Union has been transformative for Ireland’s economy and society. Ireland has always been a fully participating member. That will not change.

The European Union is, above all else, a community of nations built on shared values – these values include human dignity, freedom and democracy, equality, and the rule of law.

Values that I know are shared on this side of the Atlantic.

And we consider that the strong economic, political and cultural relationship between the European Union and the United States is vital as a force for good in today's fragile and challenging global environment.

As a committed member of the EU and a close friend of the United States, we will work very hard with you Mr. President and your administration in pursuit of strong and open relations between the US & EU, including mutually beneficial trade relationships, for millions on either side of the Atlantic.

I believe the strong people-to-people links that Ireland and the United States have developed over the generations can help us in this endeavour.

While we respect the UK's decision to leave the EU, I continue to believe it is bad for Britain, for Ireland and for Europe. And while we will miss the United Kingdom as a fellow member and ally in the EU, we will be absolutely thorough in protecting and advancing our interests by seeking the best possible outcome from the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

In this regard, we are absolutely determined to protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, to minimise any negative economic impact, to maintain our Common Travel Area with Britain and to promote a stronger, more effective European Union in the years ahead.

I firmly believe that the EU can and will continue to be a force for good on the global stage. Ireland and Europe will never be the enemy of the United States.


Northern Ireland
As I said, protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process is one of Ireland’s core Brexit priorities.

I want to thank you for your ongoing, indispensable support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process, including Congress’s support for the International Fund for Ireland. In particular I’d like to thank the members of the ‘Friends of Ireland’ so ably led by Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal.

As you are no doubt aware, Northern Ireland held Assembly elections earlier this month and the work of putting together a new power sharing Executive is ongoing. I urge the political leaders to do all in their power to bring them to a successful conclusion because it’s more important than ever that there is an effective power sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

Immigration
Mr Speaker,

As you know very well, immigration reform is of great and real concern to Ireland and an issue I have raised on a regular basis with you and your predecessor. This is a matter of reform of a system that affects many nations.

It is not for me to insert myself into your political debate but I would highlight the plight of our undocumented community of up to 50,000, hardworking Irish men and women, who are tax-paying contributors to this, their adopted home.

Many of them came here decades ago in a different era, and have been caught in limbo without any path to regularise their status. On this day when we remember St Patrick, himself an immigrant twice over to our shores, I urge you to look sympathetically at this issue.

That’s a separate matter from being able to do a bilateral deal with Ireland in the same way as applies to visas with Canada and Australia.

Conclusion
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Friends of Ireland,

I am proud to say that there are over 60 members of this august body who claim Irish heritage and it is a sense of great pride to all of us to see the continuing powerful tradition of Irish American representation at the highest level in this country.

I am honoured to represent the Irish people here today and to celebrate again with you the great ties of kith and kin that bind our two countries.

Thank You.

ENDS