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Speech by an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny at Ambassador's St Patrick's Day Reception, Washington

A chairde Gael, 

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here in Washington DC to celebrate Lá Fhéile Padraig, St. Patrick’s Day, with you. 

Earlier today, I once again had the honour and privilege of representing the Irish people at the White House with President Obama, with Vice President Biden at the Naval Observatory, and with Speaker Ryan and our friends on Capitol Hill. 

These are very special events, and ones for which we are extremely grateful. They not only show the strength of the Ireland-USA relationship, but help to bolster it.

This year, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, the significance of these events could not be greater.

The Rising may not have been possible without the United States. The example of the American Revolution inspired generations of Irish patriots. Five of the seven signatories to the Proclamation of Independence spent time in the US – and Irish America provided invaluable financial and other assistance to the cause of freedom.

In recognition of this great support, the US is the only foreign country specifically mentioned in the Proclamation, and the role of the United States in securing freedom and justice and peace on our island is widely acknowledged. 

Generations of Irish people gave, and continue to give, their all to making the United States the magnificent country it is today. 

Many arrived here as part of the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but they went on to achieve the American dream of a better life for themselves and their families and to enrich their adopted homeland beyond measure. 

Among the 33 million members of Irish - American family today we count police officers and fire fighters, doctors and justices, entrepreneurs and artists, and more than a few politicians and presidents. 

During his visit to Ireland in 1963, President Kennedy remarked that “no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters”. We continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform which will allow the tens of thousands of undocumented Irish in the United States to come out of the and more fully contribute to the country they have made their home.

Our economic relationship goes from strength to strength. Irish exports to the United States were higher than ever before last year, particularly in the food sector. I am delighted that you will have an opportunity to sample some of our wonderful cheeses, and Irish drinks here this evening. 

Irish companies in the United States now employ tens of thousands of people. Our highly educated work force, our excellent track record and our can-do attitude continue to attract US companies to set up their European bases in Ireland. 

2015 was also a record year in terms of tourism. 1.3 million US tourists visited Ireland last year, and we hope to build on this further in 2016. We want to share this year’s special celebration of our history and our 100 year journey with as many people as possible.

Even if you can’t get to Ireland this year, we certainly hope that you will join in the celebrations here. Our Embassy and Consulates have been working with local partners across to prepare a programme of some 200 commemorative events right across the country throughout this centenary year. 

The centrepiece of this programme will be a three week festival of Irish arts and culture at the Kennedy Center right here in Washington DC fromMay 17th to June 5th. It promises to be a spectacular event showcasing top talent from throughout the island of Ireland, and drawing together our music, dance, theatre and literature in innovative and exciting ways. 

In conclusion then, let me thank you once again for your commitment to Ireland, for your friendship and your support, and for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with us this evening. Lá Fhéile Padraig sona dhaoibh go leir, happy St. Patrick’s Day!