Mayor Burgess, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here in Seattle, the Emerald City, on my first official visit to the United States as Taoiseach. I appreciate all of you taking the time to join me here in the remarkable Chihuly Garden and Glass House.
My sincere thanks to the Wright Family for facilitating our meeting here in this most exquisite of spaces. I would also like to thank those who have worked to make today’s event possible, especially Honorary Consul John Keane, as well as the Irish Network Seattle, and in particular Noreen Mc Cormack and its President Aly Gardner. And of course, our team at the State Agencies and Consulate, in particular Consul General Robert O’Driscoll.
Irish in Seattle
Seattle is a place which many of you call home. For others, this is a home-away-from-home. Although I stand here today more than 11,000 miles away from Ireland’s western shores, your warm welcome has certainly made me feel at home.
Of course, the Céad Míle Fáilte that you have extended to me hardly comes as a surprise, considering the long presence of the Irish in Seattle, and the remarkable imprint that Irish emigrants have made on this great city.
Irish people have been settling in Seattle for more than 160 years, helping to build, shape and strengthen this city.
John Collins from County Cavan, became the first Irish-born mayor of Seattle in 1871, and made a considerable contribution to this city’s development.
Judge Thomas Burke – who is called ‘The Man who Built Seattle’ - was a first-generation Irish-American, and helped to bring the Great Northern Railway to its terminus here.
Ireland as a location for Investment
In turn, Seattle has helped to build the modern Ireland that we have today. In the 1980s two Seattle entrepreneurs - Bill Gates and Paul Allen – recognised Ireland as a place to grow their company Microsoft.
From a small manufacturing facility employing one hundred people in 1985, Microsoft now employs 3,000 people in Ireland, in some of their most advanced operations, from software development and testing, to sales and marketing.
Another Seattle company, Amazon, has invested over €1.5 billion in Ireland since 2004, and employs around 2,000 people across its Cork and Dublin sites.
Companies like Amazon and Microsoft are part of a group of over 500 US companies that have chosen to invest in Ireland, creating 140,000 jobs.
These companies make an important economic contribution to Ireland and their presence contributes to our status as one of the tech capitals of the world.
They have recognised the many qualities which make Ireland a desirable location for investment.
GDP Growth of 4.3% is expected this year, the highest rate of growth in the Eurozone.
We have eliminated our budget deficit.
Our debt continues to decline steadily, we are increasing investment in infrastructure, and our employment levels are at their highest in a decade.
Our population is Europe’s youngest, with 40% under 29 years of age. More than half of those aged between 30 and 34 hold a third-level degree, higher than any other country in the EU.
But these statistics don’t tell the full story.
The real story is that Ireland has a sense of optimism about the future, which is founded on the way that we have met with the challenges of our past. We are now a land of peace and prosperity, a place of opportunity where we reward aspiration and encourage innovation. We have an unshakeable belief in what we can achieve.
Added to that, Ireland offers a stable and competitive corporation tax regime and strong incentives for research and development.
We have a wide pool of highly-skilled, multilingual workers in what is already the only English-speaking country in the Eurozone.
After Brexit, we will be the only English speaking country in the European Union.
Brexit is one of the major challenges of our generation, but we are meeting that challenge, and we are confident in our approach.
Ireland’s overall priorities in the Brexit negotiations are clear: we want to minimise the impact on our trade and economy; maintain our strong bilateral trade with the UK; protect the Common Travel Area between our two countries; and preserve the hard-won achievements of the Northern Ireland peace process.
We are resolute in our determination that there can be no new barriers to trade or the movement of people across our island.
Our interests and values are best advanced and protected within a union of hundreds of millions of people – a Union which is deeply committed to the rule of law, to human rights, to global trade and to international co-operation.
The significance of trade and investment for Ireland is nowhere more evident than in our bilateral economic relationship with the United States.
However it is important to remember that trade between Ireland and the United States is a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship.
Viewed across both goods and services, our overall trade flows are remarkably balanced.
Irish companies employ close to 100,000 Americans in a range of sectors including software, medical technologies and aerospace in more than 430 Irish firms across all fifty states, including many here in Washington State.
Ireland – Seattle Today
Today Ireland is an island at the centre of the world - at the heart of the common European home we helped to build - confident about our place in the world at a time when so many other countries are not.
In the face of economic and political uncertainty, we remain a stable, competitive, secure, pro-business economy.
We are an increasingly diverse, progressive, open and accepting society.
And that is why we are working to deepen our relations with cities like Seattle and States like Washington – which share our core values and understand and appreciate our business ethos, and have common cause with us on issues like climate change.
Meeting you here today, and hearing about the important contributions that you continue to make to Seattle and to Washington State, is a great source of pride to me as Taoiseach, and to the country as a whole.
I want to congratulate you for all that you have accomplished, and all that you are working towards.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.