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Honourable Members of Congress, Iar-thaoisigh, Members of the Oireachtas, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly,
Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests and Esteemed Friends.
Oíche mhaith agaibh agus Céad Míle Fáilte romhaibh go léir go dtí Chaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath.
Dear friends, tonight we honour Speaker Pelosi and the Congressional Delegation to Ireland and, by doing so, we pay tribute to the special bond that has linked our two countries for centuries.
We are also here to honour Chairman Richie Neal, or should I say Dr. Chairman Richie Neal. Head of delegation, one of Ireland’s truest friends, and tomorrow will be conferred as an honorary doctor in the University of Ulster.
Madam Speaker, I am particularly pleased to have an early opportunity to return the wonderful hospitality you showed me and my team last month when I visited Capitol Hill for St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s also a pleasure to extend a warm welcome to your family and friends in Ireland who have joined us here this evening. And it’s good to know, that as well as being a girl from Baltimore and a San Franciscan, that you are also an honorary Wicklow woman. And indeed as I discovered earlier, your middle name is Patricia, so you are, of course, very welcome.
Twenty years ago two American students came to Dublin to study Irish literature. They met not too far from here at Trinity and became fast friends and decided to write books together. Today their storytelling has captured the imagination of millions around the world. No matter where you go, people are obsessed with how ‘Game of Thrones’ will end. For some reason, the story, much of which is filmed in Northern Ireland, has caught the popular imagination and captured the Zeitgeist - with its crazed kings, its political and sexual intrigue, not to mention a very big Wall.
Partly shot in Northern Ireland, with much home-grown talent on display, the show is also a testament to the creativity and the energy that has been at the heart of the American-Irish relationship from the very beginning.
Madam Speaker, that relationship goes back centuries, to the welcome Benjamin Franklin received here when he was raising support for the American fight for freedom.
His eloquence has been echoed over the years by many who have followed in his footsteps, right down to your powerful words in our Oireachtas earlier today.
Madam Speaker, Congress is at its best when it is an eloquent voice for American values, and when it is your words that are heard around the world.
Throughout the years they have found a special home in our country, because:
Likewise, for almost forty years, the Friends of Ireland Caucus helped build bipartisan support for initiatives for peace and reconciliation in Ireland. When courageous men and women walked the path of peace they did so knowing you, the United States, were there alongside them.
When it has mattered most of all, the Friends of Ireland have been there for us. I want to thank those of you who are here and pay tribute to the sterling leadership provided once again by Congressmen Richie Neal and Peter King, alongside many others.
Madam Speaker, it is fitting that we are gathered here in the magnificent surroundings of Dublin Castle. One hundred years ago Irish men and women established our own parliament and declared our independence. That was done in the GPO where you were last night, and in the Mansion House.
But it was here at Dublin Castle, in this great Norman fortress, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries, that Michael Collins came three years later to take control of the government of the country. Legend has it that he was rebuked for being seven minutes late.
He told them it was fine, the English had kept Ireland waiting 700 years. They could have the 7 minutes!
But as we walked up here you asked me who built this beautiful building, and you were of course right. It was built by the English and by the British, and they have indeed left us many wonderful things which we treasure today. It has remained as part of our important relationship.
Since then, the Castle has been the venue for our most significant State ceremonies. It is where we inaugurate our presidents in this hall.
It’s the centre of our democracy.
It’s where we count the votes and officially announce the results of major elections and referendums, including those on Marriage Equality and on the Right to Choose in recent years.
It’s where EU enlargement happened in 2004, under the Irish Presidency, welcoming ten new members from central eastern Europe to the European Union. A decisive step in removing the Iron Curtain from our continent.
And, when the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly passed by the Irish people 21 years ago, 97% of this state and 71% in Northern Ireland, the results were announced here as well.
The Good Friday Agreement was made possible by the help of Americans of good faith and good heart. It helped pave the way for peace and prosperity on our island, and gave our young people their own future.
Congressman Brendan Boyle, who is here tonight is the son of an Irish immigrant from Glencolmcille in Co. Donegal.
If you don’t recognise him already, he is the guy with the Donegal tie and he has described the Good Friday Agreement as ‘one of the great foreign policy achievements of the 20th century.’ Brendan, thank you and your colleagues for your help at this critical time. It is a great agreement. It’s eloquent, but it is still unfulfilled and we are determined to fulfil it.
Madam Speaker/ Dear friends, today, we are working to preserve all that has been achieved in the past.
No matter what happens with Brexit, we will do everything we can to prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In this we’re backed by countries across the European Union, and by our friends in the United States.
We all want the free movement of people north and south and free trade and enterprise north and south to continue into the future and forever.
Last week in Brussels, we agreed to provide extra time to allow the United Kingdom more time to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.
Once that’s done, we look forward to negotiating a new economic and security partnership between the UK and the EU.
It can be as close as they want it to be. For our part, we want it to be as close as it possibly can be.
Madam Speaker, Members of Congress, I know you will be there, as you have always been there in the past, to protect the achievements of the past and to help us build a brighter future.
In every century, Irish men and Irish women have helped to make America great.
There are more than 33 million Americans who are proud to claim their Irish ancestry.
Ireland, too, has become home from home for so many Americans.
As a nation we are profoundly grateful to the US Congress for your support for the new proposed E3 visa programme. Reflecting the modern nature of our relationship – one that goes both ways. Offering up new opportunities for Irish citizens to live and work in the US, but also for more US citizens to do the same in Ireland – students, retirees, skilled workers, graduates.
Madam Speaker, your support, and that of the Friends of Ireland, and with that support we are confident it can be achieved.
We also hope that it will be possible to find a solution to the undocumented Irish in the US, and indeed those in a similar position that come from other countries, their welfare continues to be a real concern and a priority for us.
We know the politics of migration is particularly contentious in your country now, as it is in so many parts of the world, but we also know the capacity and power of democracy and politics to bring about great change, and often when people least expect it.
Of course, all true friendships are reciprocal. Our bilateral trading relationship underlines the strength of that. Trade between our two countries now exceeds €2 billion each week. And an EU/US free trade agreement could enhance that greatly. I know that trade agreements are not easily done, but they can be done. The EU is certainly up for it, if the United States is.
Today as I speak, Irish companies employ over 100,000 staff right across the United States, and US companies employ over 150,000 people and there can be more. Free trade and free enterprise make us all better off in the round and it works best when jobs and investment go in both directions.
When the UK departs from the European Union, we want Ireland to act as a political and economic bridge between Europe and the United States. We provide US firms with a gateway to the Single Market and Eurozone. And, given our shared language, our shared history and cultural understanding, a means through which the US and the EU can better relate to each other on a political level.
Friends, before I finish, I want to share with you a piece of ancient Irish wisdom.
The proverb goes:
The United States has been our friend through the worst of hardships and been there alongside us at the best of times.
Today we inhabit a shared world, we face the same challenges, and we search for similar solutions.
So let’s continue to do that together.