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Speech by an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny at the Shamrock Presentation ceremony White House

Mr President, 
Mr Vice President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to join with the President [and the First Lady] to mark St. Patrick’s Day, a special time for the Irish family worldwide. 

I want to begin by sincerely thanking the President [and Mrs Obama] yet again for their splendid hospitality. This celebration of the great friendship between Ireland and the US has become a wonderful tradition.

Mr President, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to your outstanding leadership over the past seven years, and to thank you for all you have done for Irish–US relations during that time. 

You came into office at a most challenging time in terms of the global economic situation and I believe that your steadfast and courageous leadership played a huge role in ensuring that the global recession did not become a depression. 

It would of course be wonderful to welcome you, Michelle, Malia and Sasha back to Ireland some time, and you know there will always be a warm welcome for you. 

Mr President, as you know, this is an historic year for Ireland, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, a pivotal event in our history which ultimately led to Irish independence. 

Throughout this year, Irish people and our friends throughout the world will be reflecting, commemorating and celebrating – not just the events of 1916, but on the journey we have made as a country over the past 100 years and on what we want from our shared future.

This year will see thousands of events commemorating the 1916 rising in Ireland and throughout the world. Here in the United States, there are about 200 individual events taking place across almost every state. The highlight will be a major three week festival beginning on May 17 at the Kennedy Center. 

The celebrations here in the US are fitting, because of the profound influence of the United States on Ireland’s journey, and on the outlook of the Irish people. 

Without the support of this great country it is unlikely that we would have achieved the goal which Irish men and women had struggled for centuries to achieve – for Ireland to take “its place among the nations of the earth”. 

I cannot do better than quote one of your most beloved predecessors, John F. Kennedy, when he addressed the Irish parliament in June 1963, an assembly that included my own father. “And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States”.

In more recent times, the influence of the United States has been critical in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. I want to thank you Mr President and your Administration for your support as well as Senator Gary Hart for his ongoing efforts.

I also want to emphasise the particular debt we will always owe to Senator George Mitchell for his extraordinary role in the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement. I cannot think of a more appropriate figure to be Grand Marshall of the New York St Patrick’s Day Parade this year. 

As we look towards the future, Ireland’s partnership with the United States will continue to be central to our endeavours as a nation.

As one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, our prosperity depends on our strong links with this, the world’s most important economy.

As an island which lacks natural resources but is rich with the skills and innovation of our citizens, our people-to-people links with America have always been critical and will continue to be so. 

Although a small country Ireland has always been committed to making a big difference in the world. We know that any contribution we can make to tackling global problems such as terrorism, hunger and climate change can only be achieved through strong global partnership. I want to applaud the President’s tireless efforts on the world stage in promoting dialogue and partnership in the pursuit of peace and a sustainable future.

In conclusion, let me return briefly to 1916. As many of you know, the United States is the only country specifically mentioned in the 1916 proclamation, and the signatories recognised the support of our “exiled children in America”, a reference to the many millions of our diaspora in this country who supported the cause of Irish freedom for generations. 

It is my very great pleasure to present this year’s Shamrock bowl to you Mr President, inscribed with those famous words from the 1916 Proclamation.