Mayor Lee, Supervisor Farrell, Ambassador Mulhall, Consul General O’Driscoll, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you in San Francisco, on my first official visit to the United States as Taoiseach.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Mayor Lee for hosting us in City Hall. I am aware of his excellent work on homelessness and the environment, and am honoured that you are joining us this evening.
Since arriving here, I’ve heard rumours that Mayor Lee has become an honorary Corkman! I know he has recently returned from a visit to our beautiful southern city, and is even said to have picked up the accent!
Of course, Ireland’s connections with Mayors of this great city go right back to the beginning.
In the nineteenth century, Frank McCoppin from Longford became your 12th Mayor was, and in the early twentieth century Patrick McCarthy from Limerick became your 26th. And since then there have been several Mayors of Irish descent.
In so many ways the Irish have helped to build and support this city, and that continues right to the present day.
That is why I am particularly delighted to be speaking you in the Rotunda – the beating heart of this great city.
This evening I was able to visit the memorial to Harvey Milk here in City Hall. He believed that hope was never silent, and the progress that has been made in the United States, in Ireland, and around the world speaks louder than any words. Next year is the fortieth anniversary of his assassination, and we best honour his memory by living up to his message of tolerance, and respect, and dignity.
Irish Community in San Francisco
In 1906, the founder of the Gaelic League, and our future President, Douglas Hyde, visited San Francisco, and his biographers record that the city ‘captured his heart’. The story of his visit made the front page of the San Francisco Examiner and it was noted that all of San Francisco seemed to want to embrace him. He raised significant funds in support of Irish culture and the Irish language. However a couple of months later, when the devastating earthquake hit this city, he returned all the money and donated it to crisis relief. It was an act which showed the genuine bond of affection between our people, a bond which has been strengthened by more recent tragedies.
Hyde found in San Francisco a strong and vibrant Irish community.
That spirit lives on here today.
We saw the resolve of this community in 2015 in its united response to the tragedy in Berkley.
And we saw it again during the recent wildfire disaster that has affected the Bay Area.
I want to take this opportunity to extend my most sincere condolences, and those of the Irish Government, to the families and friends of those who passed away, and to all who have been affected by the recent wildfires.
Tragedies often reveal a greater truth, and these demonstrated the profound sense of community solidarity. I want to commend everyone, including those from the Irish community, who responded with such dedication, resilience and sense of duty during this difficult period.
Ireland-US Bilateral Relationship
When a former governor of California, Ronald Reagan, visited Ireland as President in 1984 he spoke in our parliament about the historic bonds of affection which link our two countries. The United States continues to be one of Ireland’s most important bilateral relationships.
Ireland has been a bridge to Europe for great US companies for over 70 years. I was five years old when President Reagan visited Ireland. Back then some 300 US companies were based in Ireland, providing close to 40,000 jobs. Today 550 US companies support close to 140,000 jobs.
This relationship between Ireland and the United States is a mutually beneficial one. Trade and investment flows in both directions and free trade and free movement of capital and labour makes everyone better off in the round.
Irish companies in a range of sectors employ close to 100,000 Americans in more than 430 Irish firms across all fifty States, including 25,000 here in California.
Ireland helped to create the United States, and the United States in turn has helped to build and shape the modern Irish Republic: a country of peace and prosperity, confident about the future and our place in the world.
The people of the Bay Area have done as much as anyone to create this future. Many Bay Area companies, such as Apple, Google and Facebook have their European Headquarters in Ireland. They have come to Ireland knowing that they can find and attract the calibre of people they need.
It’s not just our pro-business environment - we also offer a stable and competitive corporation tax regime, and strong incentives for research and development.
Ireland’s economic transformation over the last thirty years has been accompanied by rapid social development. The Ireland of today is an increasingly diverse, progressive and open society.
Like you we know that societies which are open and welcoming, which value people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, are more vibrant, more dynamic, and better able to make their way in the modern world.
In 2015, we became the first country in the world to introduce a constitutional right to marriage equality by popular vote.
It was a vote that reflected Harvey Milk’s vision for a society built on acceptance and equality. Indeed, the vote happened on what would have been his 85th birthday.
Ireland continues to look to the future with optimism. We are working to deepen our relations with cities like San Francisco and States like California – which share our core values and understand and appreciate our business ethos.
We see ourselves as an island at the centre of the world, reaching out to places far and familiar, continuing our tradition of building bridges – or tunnels in the case of this city!
The Irish who came here over 170 years ago laid the foundation for a relationship between Ireland and the United States that has continued through the generations.
Hearing today about the important contributions that you and your fellow Irish and Irish-Americans are making to the Bay Area, and to California, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride.
I want to pay tribute to the Irish organisations, and the incredible dedication and service of their members, who make up and contribute to the Irish community in this city and beyond.
I know that many of you here this evening dedicate your time, energy and passion – frequently on a voluntary basis – to promote Irish culture, our sport, and our language, and provide services to those in the Irish community who are in difficulty and need assistance.
The Embassy in Washington and the Consulate here in San Francisco could not do their work without you.
The links that you develop with communities back in Ireland – such as the recent visit to Cork by Mayor Lee – are crucial in underpinning Ireland’s relationship with the United States.
The Irish Government greatly values you and your work, and will continue to support diaspora groups through the Emigrant Support Programme. I am delighted to confirm that over $275,000 will be distributed to Irish organisations in California this year.
So I want to congratulate and commend you on all that you do, and wish you continued success in your good work.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.