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Taoiseach and Vice President Harris Roundtable with Inaugural Class of Frederick Douglass Global Fellows Ireland

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Thank you Ambassador Mulhall.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet with the inaugural class of Frederick Douglass Global Fellows Ireland.


Arriving in my home town of Cork 175 years ago, Frederick Douglass was greeted with a song whose refrain ran:

‘‘Now Céad Míle Fáilte to the Stranger,

Free from Bondage, Chains and Danger’’

From Ireland today, I want to wish you all Céad Míle Fáilte – which means one hundred thousand welcomes.

Douglass spent four months touring our island.

As he readied to leave, he reflected that they had been amongst the happiest moments in his young life.

He said he had undergone ‘‘a transformation’’, and lived ‘‘a new life’’.

He had encountered severe suffering.

But he had experienced kindness and respect.

With poignancy, he said ‘‘I find myself not treated as a colour, but as a man – not as a thing, but as a child of the common Father of us all.’’

What he did not, and could not, know, was that 175 years later his legacy would be very much alive in Ireland – he gave to Ireland, every bit as much as he took with him as he left.

The Ireland Douglass visited was on the cusp of tragedy – the Great Irish Famine, which began that year, killed more than a million people and drove as many again to become emigrants fleeing Ireland, President Biden’s ancestors amongst them.

175 years on, ours is no longer a country of mass emigration.

We are lucky now that the greater flow of people is into Ireland, not out.

As a nation, we’re far stronger for the diversity that now powers and enriches Ireland. Just as America is.

Ireland is changing in a positive and inclusive way, as we do so, we are inspired by Frederick Douglass and what he stood for.

Building a truly equal society is not easy – as you step forward as leaders, you will need courage for the task. You will also need to be resilient and persistent.

But as Douglass said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress”.

All of us who value and respect Frederick Douglass’s legacy, and who cherish diversity, need to stand up every day for equality and against intolerance.

We must recognise the privilege from which we sometimes speak, and make space so that all voices can be heard in our national dialogues.

We need to ensure that all hands get to shape our future.

Acknowledging that work remains to be done is not an admission of failure.

Rather, as Amanda Gorman said of America, it is a recognition that it ‘‘isn’t broken, simply unfinished’’ . That holds true for Ireland too.

When Frederick Douglass met the great Irish Liberator and abolitionist Daniel O’Connell, neither could have known what an impact the other would come to have on their thinking, and their lives.

It is in that spirit that we look forward, especially, to welcoming you all to Ireland.

So that you can engage with your counterparts in Ireland.

So that you can support and challenge each other.

Learn from each other and enrich each other.

And forge, together, the next generation of friendship between Ireland and the United States of America.

I am particularly delighted that, when circumstances permit, you will be visitng my home town, Cork, which, among its many charms and attractions, is also a Sister City of Vice President Harris’s San Francisco.

There you will see a plaque to mark the visit of Frederick Douglass, and indeed a less formal but much loved street mural of Douglass.

From Ireland, on St Patrick’s Day, my sincere congratulations to you all.

And I look forward to wishing you Céad Míle Fáilte to Ireland.