Irish P.M.: Ireland good for U.S. business

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to return to Washington this week to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and to meet President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as all our friends on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

The lunch hosted each year on Capitol Hill has been held on a bipartisan basis since the time of President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. For my predecessors and me, it is a tradition that we cherish greatly.

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When the president of the United States arrives on the steps of the Capitol, to the sound of Irish bagpipes, greeted by the Speaker and members of Congress, it offers us a reminder of the profound ties that exist between Ireland and the United States, and the very real friendship that has stretched for generations across the Atlantic.

Over the years, the Irish American community here has grown and changed in many ways. But one thing has always endured — that clear identification with the values and traditions that travelled with them from Ireland. These values and traditions are now part of the very fabric of the United States.

These newer generations continue to be actively engaged in the relationship between our two countries — as Irish and also as young Europeans. They share the same values enshrined in your Constitution, keen to work or study together, to enhance our common understanding. To this end, we have created a Global Irish Network, following a major economic forum with representatives of the U.S. Diaspora and others in Dublin six months ago.

Of course, globally, we all face major economic challenges. The U.S. has a leading role to play in overcoming these challenges and working toward recovery and growth. In Ireland, we are working through the difficulties to ensure that we have a competitive and successful economy for the future.

Ireland has taken the hard decisions necessary to deal with the effects of the global economic and financial crisis.

We are repairing the banking system and we have cut the budget deficit.  We are reducing costs to improve competitiveness, to boost exports and tourism and to foster sustainable employment. We have just launched an Innovation Task Force Report to take forward new ideas that will lead to new jobs, and will enable Ireland to be a new “hub” for U.S. companies.

We believe that the measures we are taking will ensure our economic recovery into the future.

In building for that future, we are committed to working in partnership, as strong members of the European Union, with the United States toward global economic recovery.

Last week saw a historic vote in Northern Ireland to take back justice powers from London — powers that were lost at the height of the Troubles nearly 40 years ago. It was a decisive step that further consolidates peace and progress.

In the history of the peace process, American names are center stage. The direct and personal interest in the peace process taken by successive U.S. administrations and by representatives from both parties has made a difference and we deeply appreciate it. Now, in this post-devolution stage, we all remain dedicated to conflict resolution and to the long process of reconciliation in divided communities, particularly for the new generation of young people in Northern Ireland. In this context, I want to express appreciation for the valuable support that the U.S. Congress provides for the International Fund for Ireland. We are committed also to developing further the all-island economy while many projects in trade, tourism, cancer research and others already provide excellent examples of North-South cooperation.

I will be conveying my thanks to President Obama, to Vice President Biden — another great Irish-American — to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Speaker Pelosi and to all our friends in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats. I want to pay tribute also to the chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Richie Neal; his predecessor, former Congressman Jim Walsh; and all the Friends of Ireland in Congress who have been so generous with their time and commitment to this issue for so long.

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Of course, this St. Patrick’s Day, while we celebrate, we do so with heavy hearts as we honor the memory of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Ireland’s proud son and the leader of a generation of Irish Americans. Ted helped us craft the peace that we enjoy today in Ireland and I know that he will be with us all in spirit.

In all these areas — business, education, culture and overseas aid, to name some — there is plenty of potential for new initiatives and collaboration between us at many levels and I know that our friends in Congress will continue to play a key role. Our common values of democracy, of boundless optimism and of hard work helped the Irish make their way in a new country, as they helped to make America great and now work with other communities across America. These same values will see us through these tough times as well.

May I offer to all your readers our greetings for St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish language: La Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir.

Brian Cowen T.D. is the Taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland.