Speaker Pelosi, Congressman King, Members of Congress.
Secretary of State Lewis, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests.
History has shown us that the three most difficult things to do are to turn fear into hope, war into peace, and hatred into reconciliation.
Tonight’s theme is peace and reconciliation and really it’s a story about hope, and a celebration of how Irish-America helped change the future of Ireland.
Peace and reconciliation are two different things. Peace without reconciliation is a hollow achievement, it is cold, it separates. Peace with reconciliation is the real victory, and it brings warmth and light and partnership.
It takes courage. Courage to move beyond the wrongs done to family and friends, courage to forgive. Courage to move forward. And that’s what we are honouring tonight.
My thanks to Susan O’Neill, her colleagues, and the Board and Dinner Chairs for their fantastic work in organising tonight’s dinner.
My congratulations to Eugene McQuade on your appointment as the new Chairman of the Ireland Funds America and to David Cronin, on your appointment as the new Chief Executive. I wish you both well, and I know the Ireland Funds are in good hands.
Ladies and Gentlemen, building hope, building a better future, isn’t cheap. Over the years the Ireland Funds has raised over $600 million dollars and that has been invested in peace and reconciliation in Ireland. Money that has benefited 3,200 organisations directly and that has provided hope to entire communities in Ireland, North and South.
When we talk about peace and reconciliation we think of people like Seamus Mallon, who died earlier this year. Seamus was a political giant, a profile in courage, someone who served with distinction as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, as well as a Member of three parliaments - the Northern Ireland Assembly, Seanad Éireann and the House of Commons. He attended them all.
As Congressman Richie Neal said at the time of his death, Seamus was a courageous leader who helped bring peace, justice and reconciliation to the island of Ireland.
As one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, Seamus helped change the course of Irish history.
Seamus’ book, A Shared Home Place, is an eloquent testimony about the power of forgiveness, and captures his life’s work – as a civil rights leader, as a political leader, and as someone who knew that the path of non-violence was the only way of achieving a just and lasting peace.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Blessed are the peacemakers. We will never forget the work of Seamus and all of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. We honour them best by protecting the peace that we enjoy, building bridges between communities, and working to achieve a lasting reconciliation.
Tonight we can be optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland because we have seen the return of functioning democratic power-sharing institutions. Under the New Decade, New Approach agreement reached in January, we have a deal that has the potential to be transformative for Northern Ireland. Enhancing public services, restoring public confidence in devolved government, as well as dealing with challenging cultural issues in a fair and inclusive manner.
I believe it will give the public as well as the political parties confidence in politics and in the sustainability of the institutions. It will also make possible meaningful reform of the petition of concern.
Our thanks are due to the representatives of all the parties in Northern Ireland for their sustained and shared commitment to this political process and to the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
A priority for the new Irish Government will be to work with the restored Executive to help re-energise the economic relationships on the island of Ireland. A first step will be an early meeting of the North South Ministerial Council.
The close co-operation between the Irish and Northern Ireland Health Ministers and Chief Medical Officers in the face of the Covid 19 situation reminds of the importance and value of co-operation between authorities on the island of Ireland.
I believe regular meetings of the British Irish Council and the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference should also provide stability, and ensure that the agreement functions effectively.
I belive there is a responsibility on all of us to be vigilant in protecting the hard-won peace and to do what is necessary to make further progress towards reconciliation.
Your work in the Ireland Funds in promoting peace and reconciliation has been hugely important. Thank you for your generosity and unwavering commitment to your cause.
Tonight I also want to pay tribute to the phenomenal work done by the Friends of Ireland Caucus, co-chaired by Congressmen Richie Neal and Pete King, and the Ad-hoc Committee on the Good Friday Agreement, co-chaired by former Congressmen Bruce Morrison and Jim Walsh. To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, ‘Think where Ireland’s glory most begins and ends, and say our glory was to have such friends’.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you will be aware, the United Kingdom left the European Union at the end of January. However this is far from the end of the Brexit story.
Thanks to an agreement reached with the EU, the Good Friday Agreement was fully protected, and we avoided the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
This was a significant achievement, and I would like to thank our friends here in the US who stood with us and with the Good Friday Agreement.
The EU and the UK are now negotiating a future relationship. For our part, we want this to be as close and productive a partnership as possible.
The Good Friday Agreement protects the citizenship and identity rights of all of those born in Northern Ireland – and includes the right of people to identify as British or Irish or both.
Emma de Souza has sought to have her right to be an Irish citizen upheld by British laws and I want to welcome her here this evening.
Emma, we support you in your fight. It is a fight for the spirit, not just the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement.
Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we are here to honour three special people whose careers have combined the same courage and idealism, and whose impact has been transformational.
The first is Matthew Shay, who as President and CEO of the National Retail Federation, ably represents one of the pillars of the US economy. The scale of the retail sector in the US, employing 42 million people – in other words one in four - is phenomenal. Comhghairdeas, Matthew, congratulations on your well-deserved award.
We also pay tribute to Congressman Pete King, who is receiving special recognition this evening. Pete is one of New York’s finest Representatives, and has been a fighter for peace, justice and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
Pete, you have helped to build a better future for so many people on the island of Ireland and we thank you for it.
On behalf of the Irish Government and the people of Ireland, I want to wish you and Rosemary a very happy retirement and many precious years with your grandchildren.
I also hope you get to attend more football matches, and especially that you come over to Dublin in August to attend the Notre Dame-Navy game
Finally, I want to pay warm tribute to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy, your support and concern for Ireland, including the warm welcome you have extended to me and to my predecessors, is enormously appreciated.
It was my great pleasure to welcome you and your colleagues to Ireland last year and host you in Dublin Castle.
Your message in thr context of the trade deal between the US and the EU and your determination to give primacy to the Good Friday Agreement was timely, invaluable, and made a huge difference. Your words in Dublin that day were heard in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin and Brussels. And it made a difference. Just words? Words matter!
Madam Speaker, I am delighted that you are to receive the Ireland Funds’ Distinguished Leadership Award this evening.
It is richly deserved. In Ireland we know you as someone who always speaks your mind, and your faith in the power of politics to improve lives shines through. With you the image matches the reality.
Your Irish grandchildren will grow up knowing the esteem and affection in which we hold you, and how grateful we are to you for standing by Ireland when it mattered most.
The most popular television programme in Ireland is the longest running chat show in the world, The Late Late Show. Whenever prizes are awarded it is customary for the presenter to say ‘there is one for everyone in the audience’. Tonight we have had a lot of thank yous, but I want to finish by saying there is also one for everyone in the audience. Thank you for your tireless and unstinting work for peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. In a million different ways, by your thoughts and by your actions, you have helped make our island a better place.
As we strive to build a better future for now and for generations to come we will continue to rely on the friendship of Irish America and the vital work of the Ireland Funds.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh agus beannachtaí an Lá Fhéile Phádraig daoibh go léir.
Thank you and a very happy St Patrick’s Day to you all.