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Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar at the St Patricks’ Day Reception, The White House, Washington DC

Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D.,

At the St Patricks’ Day Reception
The White House, Washington DC,
15 March 2018

Mr. President, First Lady, Vice-President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. 

Mr. President, on behalf of the Irish Government I want to thank you for taking the opportunity to celebrate our national day with the Irish Diaspora here in the US. 

For Irish people, and those of Irish descent all over the world, no matter where we happen to be, this is the time when we collectively celebrate who we are as a people. 

Nowhere is our day, St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated more enthusiastically than here in the United States, where 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. 

On Saturday I will be in your home town of New York, where I will have the honour of walking down 5th Avenue in the world-famous St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Mr. President, events like this White House Reception, and parades around the country on Saturday, remind us of the ties that bind our two countries together.  

These ties are rooted in our shared history. As you said yourself in your Proclamation for ‘Irish-American Heritage Month’, the tenacious Irish spirit, paired with American self-reliance’, helped this country become great.

The portrait of your first President, George Washington, looks down on us here in the East Room. President Washington called Ireland the ‘friend of my country in my country’s most friendless days’. His prayer was for ‘the sun of freedom to shed its benign radiance on the Emerald Isle’ and bring her prosperity and peace. For George Washington, we were the strangers who mustered around your flag.  

We supported the cause of American freedom from the very start - we shed our blood to help make it a reality.

In the same way, the United States has helped build modern Ireland. One that is prosperous and at peace, self-confident about our place in the world, no longer an island on the periphery of Europe, but an island at the centre of the world.

In my office I keep and I treasure a collection of speeches and letters by one of your greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Sometimes when there is a crisis with no obvious solution, I find wisdom in the words of the first Republican President.  

President Lincoln believed as he said: ‘When we talk, we are only repeating what we already know. But if we listen, we may learn something new’.  

President Trump and I met earlier and I believe by talking and listening we both learned things that will help our two countries move forward.

President Lincoln was memorialised in verse for all time by the poet of your national imagination, Walt Whitman.  

Whitman, writing about Ireland, described it as ‘an isle of wondrous beauty’, and our people who were weathering a storm to cross the Atlantic.

These were the men, women and children who found refuge and safe harbour in the United States.  

They chose the ‘New World’ to escape oppression, hunger and poverty, and endured the harsh and dangerous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.  

They arrived in a new Republic where they were given the opportunity to create a new future.  

They were allowed follow their dreams, and those dreams became American. And so, the story of the Irish in America is as American as it is Irish.

Today the Irish Diaspora is found in every state, every city, every neighbourhood in this country.  

We have prospered in politics, in business, in the arts, and in the service of fellow Americans. Many are here today.

Many Irish serve today in The White House.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the excellent meeting we had this morning in the Oval Office.  

We had a very worthwhile exchange of views on important issues, including trade, security and migration. 

I know that the Irish people who have made their lives here, including those who are undocumented and living in the shadows, love this country dearly.  

They have the same dream as the men and women who inspired Washington, fought for Lincoln, and work alongside you today.  

They want to continue to contribute to the life of this great country, and continue to play their part. Their dream will never die.

I want to assure you, Mr. President, that the Irish Government will continue to work with your Administration to find a solution to this important issue. And we are willing to match any move with the same or better for Americans in Ireland.

The best relationship between two countries is a fair transaction, with something given and received on both sides. A good deal – you might say.  

I believe, today, Ireland can act as a bridge between this great country and the European Union. And, more than ever, we are a strong and effective partner for you.

Our economic relationship is a two-way street. Irish firms employ more than 100,000 people here across all 50 states. Since you took office, Mr. President, 59 Irish companies have made new investments in this country. We are bringing jobs, good jobs.

Each and every week we trade $2 billion in goods and services back and forth across the Atlantic. We want that to grow.

So, in the spirit of the long and close relationship between our two countries and our two peoples, it is my very great pleasure to present this year’s Shamrock bowl to you.  

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.