BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D., at the Speaker’s Lunch (Paul Ryan), Washington, U.S.A.


Check against delivery

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.

It is a great pleasure to be back with you 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.

I want to begin by congratulating the new Speaker and wishing him well in his new and demanding role.
Speaker Ryan is a long standing friend of Ireland and I had the great pleasure of seeing him in Dublin last year when he and members of his family travelled down to Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, visiting his ancestral home and meeting with some of his Irish family.

The Speaker is far from alone in making this journey to Ireland. So many millions of Irish Americans have made similar trips – not least President Obama’s journey back to Moneygall. We in Ireland know how much it means to discover your roots. We love to welcome all of you, who we consider family, back to Ireland.

The relationship between Ireland and the United States today remains as vibrant and as vital as it has ever been.

Our trade and business links remain critically important to our economic recovery and to the prosperity of our people.

Trade between our two countries is at an historic high. We see more and more Irish companies exporting to the US and opening offices here, to match the great American companies who have set up their European bases in Ireland.

We have continued to see strong economic growth and job creation. This year, for the third year in a row, Ireland is expected to be the fastest growing economy in the EU.

We want to make sure that the benefits of this strong economic progress are felt by all our people in every part of our country.

Northern Ireland
I want to thank everyone present for your enduring support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process and, in particular, the members of the ‘Friends of Ireland’ so ably led by Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal.

This Congress and this Administration have kept the faith and continue to support the ongoing efforts to secure peace and achieve true reconciliation, including through your ongoing support for the International Fund for Ireland.

Mr President, I want to thank you and Secretary Kerry for appointing Senator Gary Hart who continues to play a crucial role. He follows in the footsteps of another great US Senator whose name will always be remembered with affection and gratitude in Ireland, George Mitchell.

I can think of no more worthy person to be Grand Marshall of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York this year than Senator Mitchell.

I also want to mention how delighted I am to have the new First Minister Arlene Foster with us today along with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Speaker, as you know very well immigration reform is of great and real concern to Ireland.

It is an issue I have raised on a regular basis with your predecessor, and I am of course conscious that this is a domestic debate where feelings run very high in both parties.

However, I would urge members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to find a way forward to address the plight of the undocumented, among them many hard working Irish men and women, who are law-abiding, tax-paying contributors to this, their adopted home.

Sadly it still remains the case that it is virtually impossible for Irish people to immigrate to the US under the current visa system and this seems to me to be a very regrettable situation for both our countries.

I don’t need to tell any of you what the Irish have contributed to this country. Many of you are descended from Irish immigrants who braved unbelievable hardship and struggle to come to the New World and contributed to building the American dream.

The success of the recent film Brooklyn, based on Colm Toibin’s novel, shows how strongly the emigrant experience continues to resonate with a modern audience.

As a small island nation, some of our people, especially the young, will always want to emigrate and experience life for a period in another country - this is part of our DNA.

What we are finding now is that bright, young, highly-educated Irish people are not coming to Boston or Chicago but are instead are going to Toronto or Melbourne.

We must work together to find a way to ensure than the centuries old story of Irish people coming and contributing to this country becomes, not a thing of the past, but a new chapter of achievement and ambition.

2016: Centenary
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising, a pivotal moment in our history which set Ireland on a path which ultimately led to our independence.

This could not have happened without the support of the United States. The iconic Proclamation, which was read by Padraig Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916, specifically speaks of the support of “our exiled children in America”.

Those exiled children, many of whose descendants are in this room, provided the crucial support to ensure that Irish independence, for so long a dream, finally became a reality.

I know that some of you plan to be in Ireland for Easter weekend where you will be most warmly welcome. In addition to the many events that are being held in Ireland to mark the centenary, we have hundreds of commemoration events taking place across this country.

I am especially pleased to learn about the plans for commemorating the Rising here in Congress - I cannot think of a more fitting place to pay tribute to the leaders of 1916, and to the development of an independent, democratic Ireland.

Another highlight here in the US will be ‘Ireland 100’. This is a three week festival of Irish arts and culture which takes place appropriately enough at the Kennedy Center here in the nations’ capital. I hope many of you will be able to attend some of the wonderful events that are planned.

Mr Speaker, Mr. President, Friends of Ireland

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. Hail Glorious St. Patrick!

Thank You.