Keynote Address at the National Gala of the American Ireland Fund
Secretary of State
Declan is doing a wonderful job. And it is great to be back here with so many friends and former colleagues from the Congress. There are a number of senators and representatives who are devoted not only to Ireland but to the Fund. And I am so pleased that the Taoiseach is here, and I want publicly to commend him for the very difficult decisions that he is making in the midst of the economic crisis. (Applause.)
I’m so grateful for Loretta and Kieran for their leadership. This is a labor of love for both of them and it shows not only at the gala every year but every day as they pursue not only the American Ireland Fund but all of the funds around the world that do so much to promote the Irish culture and create more understanding and connections among people. And I’m delighted, too, that we are joined by the ambassadors between the United States and Ireland, Ambassador Collins and, of course, the inimitable Ambassador Rooney, who is turning every Irish person into a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, single-handedly, one by one. (Applause.)
And to have our friends from Northern Ireland here is a special treat, especially on this day after so much work that has led to such a positive outcome. And to have the First Minister, the deputy First Minister, other members of the Executive and those who are supporting the continuation of progress in Northern Ireland gives me, and I know all of you, great joy.
I can’t help but thank the Sidwell Friends Chamber Chorus, since my daughter attended Sidwell, and they did an excellent job on Danny Boy. (Applause.)
And then in a few minutes, you’ll see another phenomenal group of young people, Celtic Dreams. And my escort for tonight, the former President of the United States (laughter) went to an event in the Bronx for our friend, Joe Crowley. And as part of that event, Joe had these young people perform. And if you were watching the screen during dinner, you saw a picture of them when the American Ireland Fund paid for this group of primarily black and Hispanic kids from New York City to travel to Ireland to demonstrate what their Irish-born teacher had taught them in terms of Irish dance. And so I know you’re going to enjoy them. Bill came home just carried away by what he had seen in terms of their talent, but even more, the way that the Irish culture and the dance had brought these kids together, giving them something to be so proud of. And then to travel to Ireland to share that was a real dream for them.
Thank you for this award. It is extremely meaningful to me because of the work that I’ve been privileged to do, first when Bill was president and very committed to making sure that the United States, along with the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach were involved in helping to support a peace process in Northern Ireland. And as we gather again on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, we have so much to be grateful for. And it’s especially meaningful to everyone who has any connection to the island of Ireland. For millions of Americans, it is the ancestral homeland. For millions more, it becomes such on St. Patrick’s Day.
And I am going to an extreme tomorrow. Because I have to travel to Moscow for an important set of meetings, we’re going to leave in time so that I can land for refueling in Shannon while St. Patrick’s Day is still going on. (Applause.)
I want to thank the people and the Government of the Republic of Ireland for the partnership that we have between our two countries that has certainly been strong and vibrant for many years. But today it is especially meaningful. We are grateful that Ireland was one of the first nations to accept detainees from Guantanamo Bay and is now helping them resettle into new lives while helping us move closer to the ultimate goal of closing the detention facility once and for all. (Applause.)
And I want to thank the Taoiseach, his government and the people of Ireland for the Irish troops that are working to establish security and create conditions for long-term stability in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
And as the Taoiseach said when he made his remarks before dinner, Ireland has made a significant contribution toward solving another urgent global challenge: hunger and food insecurity. And as the Irish know from your own history, the failure of an agricultural system can crumble an economy and cause terrible human suffering. And with the decision made by an Irish Government in the midst of these challenging economic times to commit 20 percent of its assistance budget toward ending global hunger, Ireland has taken a leading role at a critical time. (Applause.)
The United States has made food security a key priority, and I don’t know that I would have had any choice since Jim McGovern showed up about the first day that I became Secretary of State and said we must make hunger and food security a priority of our country. (Applause.) And along with Ireland, we will co-host a conference at the United Nations in September.
And in the North, the people of Northern Ireland have come so far to make real the aspirations enshrined in the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements. And I really commend the leadership led by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. Men and women who once were enemies now work in unison to bridge remaining divides in places that were no man’s and no women’s lands, social centers and small businesses are sparking commerce and a shared sense of community.
As Yeatts wrote, peace comes dropping slow. And it may seem slow to those of us who live in such fast-paced times as these, but it has emerged. And it has emerged because the people of Northern Ireland has demanded it. And so I commend the Northern Ireland Assembly on its recent endorsement of the Hillsborough Agreement. And I commend Sean Woodward, who has done a masterful job representing the government in London and the Prime Minister. Everyone deserves credit for what has happened. But the First Minister and the deputy First Minister and all the parties in Northern Ireland itself made this agreement happen. The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister and others of us worked to facilitate it, but at the end of the day, it was the decision of these leaders that mattered.
And for me, it has always been about the future of children. Every child, in my view, deserves a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. And I’ve met so many children from Northern Ireland over the last 17 years. I recall one young women from Bill’s and my trip to Belfast in 1995. We met her at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in front of City Hall and Bill read an excerpt from a letter that she had written when she was 14 years old. This is what Sharon Haughey said back then: “Both sides have been hurt. Both sides will have to forgive.” That’s a self-evident truth, but it’s one that remained elusive.
Bill and I stayed in touch with Sharon over the years. And when I was a senator from New York she served as an intern in my office. And then she returned to Northern Ireland and continued to pursue her passion for politics, winning a seat on her city and district council. And when I was in Northern Ireland last October, we had our first visit in several years, and I was not surprised to hear her determination that she was going to be part of helping to shape a new future for Northern Ireland.
As we look now at where this process of devolution has evolved to, I would really echo the points that Declan Kelly made. We have to make sure that, not only in Northern Ireland that in all democracies, that we can deliver for people, that we can give them a sense of possibility. As I said at Stormont in my speech there, the value of peace is not just the absence of violence but the presence of new opportunities for investment and jobs, for better education and healthcare, and for political participation, like young Sharon has pursued. Peace may be officially established by a vote or an agreement, but it is the real life experiences of people day after day and year after year that cement it, that create what de Tocqueville called the habits of the heart. And if young people do not see a better life, if they do not believe there is opportunity, then some may wonder, well, what is peace really all about, and is it worth preserving?
I see this around the world now. In so many places, young people are not sure about what direction to take, and it is up to us to work to provide those concrete opportunities that will help them climb the economic ladder, will give them access to higher education, will provide the critical services that are needed to make sure that both political and civic life flourish.
This work is not a luxury. It is not a subordinate aspect of peace; it is central to peace because everyone who is moved to peace has to make sure that it does get solidified. And so the United States will seek to increase our efforts with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the British and Irish Governments to expand economic, educational, political, and civic opportunities to the young people of Northern Ireland. And our work to help encourage the creation of jobs is well underway. We’ve seen hundreds of new jobs created, and we will see even more, including the 50 that were announced this morning, thanks to investment by a company from Massachusetts, the Q1 Labs.
But as I’ve spoken with both First Minister Robinson and deputy First Minister McGuinness and with Minister Arlene Foster and others, we will have an investment conference in Washington this fall which will include a targeted community of business leaders who’ve expressed an interest in investing in Northern Ireland. And we will continue to work with the American Ireland Fund, which has been instrumental in forging economic partnerships, just as it has supported the peace process at every step.
And I appreciate very much the Fund has agreed to work with Envoy Kelly and Minister Arlene Foster and the organization Invest Northern Ireland to create an exchange program that will place workers from Northern Ireland in American companies for a year to gain valuable experience and knowledge.
And as we look at what’s happening in the Republic of Ireland, I want to reiterate the commitment of the United States to work with the Taoiseach, with the government, and the people of Ireland to confront the global downturn and to help promote a global recovery. We know Ireland has been hard-hit. Many of its people had badly affected as has happened worldwide, including in our own country. But we want the Irish to know across the entire island that we stand with you. The United States has a bond and a commitment. And during these tough times, we will be there to help you move forward so that, together, we can realize the return of economic activity and prosperity and jobs for all. We particularly have to focus (applause) on those who are hard to reach, on those who are unemployed, on those who are maybe, without further training and intervention, unemployable.
But this is a challenge that all advanced democracies face, and we will work together to learn the best ways forward. And we will also continue to use the Northern Ireland peace process as a model for other nations struggling to end conflict, just as the work of the Irish American community in supporting that process is a model.
I have heard from leaders of several countries who have studied not only what happened in Northern Ireland but what happened in the Irish American community to enable it. And one of the ways that worked was through this Fund. And so taking the experience of this Fund and the Irish American community, I helped to celebrate the launch of the American Pakistan Foundation. And efforts are now underway to engage communities in America with ties to Mexico, Haiti, Kenya, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and other countries. These communities of the diaspora fill a critical niche. We want to begin to support them to do what the Irish American Community has done: to reach back, to make contributions, and to assist on the road to peace. So I’m delighted to announce that the State Department will help spread the model of the American Ireland Fund through a conference we will hold later this year to share best practices and smart ideas for engaging global diaspora communities. (Applause.)
Ireland has meant a great deal to me and to Bill. And I remember the first time our daughter set foot in Ireland. She was a teenager. We were not even actually going to Ireland, but we were again stopping in Shannon to refuel. (Laughter.) And so as we got off the airplane, she want up to one of the officials standing there to greet us, and she was engaged in very serious conversation. And I didn’t know quite what she was talking about. And then she came back and she said, “They’re going to let me do it.” And I said, “What are they going to let you do?” And she said, “They’re going to let me leave the airport and go out and actually touch the ground of Ireland.” Wow. So she did. And she gathered some soil from Shannon Airport, and she placed it in a bottle, and she brought that home with her to the White House, where it resided until she went off to college, and she has kept it ever since.
It’s a small story, but it’s one that (applause) – is a metaphor, because I think many people because I think many people, particularly those who can trace their ancestors back to Ireland as Bill does – he keeps finding people who tell him that, no, they’re from somewhere else in Ireland. He now has about five pictures of the small little house that they were allegedly from (laughter), all of them different and all of them displayed as though they were the real place. (Laughter.) But it shows how strongly he and so many of you and us feel about this connection we have and the stake we feel we continue to have in Ireland’s future.
And thanks to the American Ireland Fund, we all have a chance to contribute. And so, thank you. Thank you for this honor for me, but really, I give it back to all of you because without the American Ireland Fund, we would not be here today on the eve of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration where we can say peace has come once and for all to Northern Ireland.
Thank you and God bless you.