Taoiseach’s address at the United Irish Cultural CentreSan Francisco Wednesday June 4 2014
Mr. Mayor, Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good evening and thank you for your very warm welcome. It is wonderful to be back here in the United Irish Cultural Centre and to have the opportunity meet you all.
I have fond memories of the warmth, vibrancy, and strength of the Irish community here from my trip to the Bay Area in March 2013.
Following that trip, I knew that I had to come back here, and soon. California and San Francisco lie far from the shores of home but sit large in the hearts of the Irish, and have done for over a century and a half.
I am glad to say that since my last visit to the West Coast just over a year ago we have also made further progress towards Ireland’s economic recovery.
- We were the first country inside the Euro area to successfully emerge from an EU/IMF bailout.
- We have returned to the international bond markets at competitive rates.
- While unemployment and in particular youth unemployment are still too high we are making steady progress here too.
- We have seen strong annual employment growth of 2.3%, and a sharp reduction in unemployment.
Ireland remains a prime location for US companies looking to expand operations outside America with major companies such as LinkedIn and Google having their international quarters in Dublin. Indeed I am meeting many of these companies who have invested so strongly in Ireland while I am here.
40 per cent of the foreign direct investment to Ireland from the US comes from the Silicon Valley area. There are over 190 companies based in Ireland from the West Coast, employing 36,000 people.
And the US is now an attractive destination for Irish companies expanding their operations out of Ireland. The West Coast is now home to over 50 companies with Irish founders including Strype, Trustev, Viddyad and Intercom.
We are delighted to see Dublin connected to Silicon Valley again with the new direct air route reinstated between Dublin and San Francisco in April of this year. This should have a further positive impact on trade, investment and tourism linkages.
But of course the links between Ireland and the United States and Ireland and this great city are about much more than economics.
The contributions of the Irish to this city cannot be understated. The Irish helped to build the roads and the railways; the dams and the water supply; they laid out the streets and built the buildings that line them. In so many ways San Francisco is built on the hard work of Irish immigrants and their children.
There is also a proud tradition of service in the uniformed services: the Police and Fire Departments who daily put themselves in harm’s way to ensure a safe and secure environment for the whole community. I want to thank the officers of the San Francisco Police and Fire Departments here tonight, you do what is often a thankless task so I want to express my appreciation for all that you do.
The Irish have served the city and the broader community in so many other ways too: in schools and hospitals; in the legal profession and in political office; and in the voluntary sporting and cultural associations, enriching the life of the community.
And in this context I want to assure you today that the Irish Government has been, and continues to be, very vocal about the need for urgent reform of the US immigration system.
This was the focus of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington DC
I spoke at length with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Boehner and congressional representatives on both sides. Immigration reform offers an opportunity to solve a problem of enormous personal significance to an enormous number of people. And it offers economic opportunity as well. American entrepreneurship, American innovation, American success is built on the contribution of immigrants.
Most of you here already understand where Ireland is coming from on this. We have two primary interests:
- first, our undocumented citizens being brought in from the shadows;
- and secondly, our interest in a future flow for legal immigration… a solution that finally undoes the unintended consequences of the 1965 Act, and is in keeping with the deep historic and contemporary ties between Ireland and the United States.
These are concerns that I know are shared by many of you here today. For too long, the system has not been working properly – either for business, or for the millions of people that are affected.
While the figure of 50,000 Irish citizens represents only a small fraction of the overall number of undocumented people here in the US, to the Irish Government and to you here today, this is a very sizable group. Add to that figure the loved ones, families and friends affected, and we get a sense of how many lives are being impacted by the current situation.
It remains very difficult to get a reliable bearing on when progress might happen - not least with the mid-term U.S. Congressional elections on the horizon. While there may be some prospects for another push for immigration reform activity at House of Representatives level over the coming weeks, the situation is continuously evolving and any predictions need to be made with caution.
In the meantime, we need to keep up the pressure on the ground. With the support of Ambassador Anderson and Ireland's Embassy and Consulate network across the US, I know that you will continue to raise these issues at every appropriate opportunity. And, as Taoiseach, I will continue to raise the issues at the highest political levels.
And while we await resolution, the important task of supporting our undocumented continues.
The Irish Government is proud to support the organisations that serve the needs of the Irish Diaspora old and new. In 2013 alone, the Emigrant Support Programme provided grants in excess of $330,000 to Irish organisations on the West Coast. This is part of the almost $160 million that has been given to Irish organisations around the world since the programme was launched in 2004. I am grateful to the California-based immigrant support groups that put so much into their important work.
You are all the flag-bearers for the very best of the Irish Diaspora and immigrant experience, and this United Irish Cultural Centre is the embodiment of your efforts.
United, that idea of unity, is something which is so apparent about the Irish community in the Bay Area. The many organisations that make up the great patchwork of the Irish community ensure that our cultural richness is shared and explored, and that the connections between San Francisco and Ireland continue to strengthen.
While the various organisations and societies focus on different aspects of the Irish experience, the manner in which they come together, and have done for the past 160 years, with the United Irish Cultural Societies to put on the St Patrick’s Day parade, the largest celebration of Ireland and Irishness on the west coast, is nothing short of exemplary.
This unity of purpose, the collaboration and cooperation that it engenders does not come without much work often led by a small handful of individuals. Individuals like Dermot Philpott, who has served his community for many decades as a member of the San Francisco Police Department, and until this year as the President of the United Irish Societies. I want to pay special tribute to your contribution Dermot, the Irish community and San Francisco are all the richer for your efforts.
In concluding, I want to thank you all for being here this evening, I especially wish to thank our hosts here tonight, the board and staff of the United Irish Cultural Centre. A small number of people led by President Judith Kell who ensure that the centre continues to be a place where a community can thrive, a community that respects tradition while seeking ways to ensure that it survives into the future.