Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD., Irish American Partnership Breakfast
Speech16 March 2018
A Dhaoine Uasaile agus a Chairde,
Alderman Burke, Ladies & Gentleman, Dear Friends,
I am delighted to be here in one of the great cities of the globe, and one of the great Irish-American cities to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
I am very much looking forward to seeing the infamous greening of the Chicago River for myself tomorrow. Chicago plumbers first dyed the river green in honour of St. Patrick’s Day back in 1962.
Well the concept caught on and the Greening has now spread around the globe from the Great Wall of China to the Pyramids of Egypt, to the Colosseum in Rome to the Opera House in Sydney. I wonder did those plumbers in 1962 have any idea of what they started. Theirs is truly a global legacy.
Chicago looms large in Irish consciousness. We have been coming here for a long time, particularly where I am from in the west of Ireland. From the west to the Midwest, from our global island to this global city and from the land of failtes to the welcoming city, our people have made their home here.
I was honoured last summer when the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, appointed me as Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora. This commitment to the Irish abroad and to the Irish in Chicago was confirmed by former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who appointed Ireland’s first and, to date only, member of the Irish Parliament to reside outside of Ireland, Chicago’s own Senator, Billy Lawless, another Galway man. Senator Lawless was appointed to underline the Government’s commitment to our Diaspora.
But as we celebrate St Patrick’s Day, a sister city of Galway, we want to take the time to recognise a deeper point.
The very idea of Irishness, throughout our history, is something that we share with people across the world in a very special way. We want to thank all of you with Irish ancestry, Irish connections or just a passion for Ireland, for contributing to the very idea of what it means to be Irish.
St. Patrick’s Day is a time of celebration in Ireland and for all those of Irish descent and affinity around the world. As the US Census Bureau records, almost 33 million people in the United States claim Irish heritage – more than 10% of the US population and roughly seven times the population of Ireland itself. Some 200,000 in this city alone.
We have always been acutely conscious that the Irish family did not begin and end on the shores of our small island.
As Minister for the Diaspora I’m guided in my role by our Constitution. Article 2, states that,
· “The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”
Given Ireland’s history of emigration, relations with the diaspora have always been a part of our political, social and economic life.
Our relationship with the Diaspora is an important one.
And that Diaspora includes Alderman Ed Burke.
I want to pay tribute to his 50 years of public service. He said himself that he has been lucky enough to have a “front row to history,” This commitment to public service reflects the contribution of the Irish to the development of this glorious American city.
Alderman Burke was also instrumental in exhonorating Mrs O’Leary and her cow from blame for the great Chicago fire.
While an Irish women’s cow kicking a lantern and burning down a city may make for a funny aside on tours of the city today, it also makes us reflect that being Irish in Chicago was not always fashionable.
We were outsiders, scapegoats or scapecows in that instance! – but it gives us an empathy with those that might find themselves perceived as outsiders today. I pay tribute to the Mayor for his designation of Chicago as a welcoming city.
Alderman Burke also passed a resolution designating Irish rugby day in 2016. Ireland celebrated winning the 6 nations championship last weekend.
Chicago and Soldier Field have cemented their place in the history of Irish rugby as being the location of Ireland’s first ever win over the mighty New Zealand All blacks after more than a century of trying!
Soldier field was also the home to the first ever Special Olympics 50 years ago. I would like to acknowledge too the contribution of Alderman Burke’s wife, Justice Anne Burke in making those games happen all those years ago and for your ongoing commitment to the wonderful Special Olympics movement.
Fifteen years ago, in 2003, Ireland was the first country outside the US to host The Special Olympics. Communities in towns and cities across our country hosted athletes from around the world. Their energy and enthusiasm captivated the country and inspired us. The Special Olympics will always retain a special place in Irish hearts.
Thank you Ann, thank you Ed, you truly make us proud.
The work of the Irish American Partnership connects Irish-Americans with their heritage and promotes economic development through tourism, trade, and mutual exchange. It also empowers the next generation of Irish leaders by supporting educational initiatives and community development programs in Ireland North and South.
On behalf of the Government and people of Ireland I want to thank you for what you do. Your work contributes directly and tangibly to fostering peace in Ireland.
Your work is more relevant than ever.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, signed on 10th April 1998 and adopted by popular referendum on both parts of the island of Ireland on 22nd May 1998.
Commemorative events will be held to highlight and mark the achievement of the Agreement, which remains the cornerstone of the Peace Process and the framework for relationships across our islands.
Unfortunately it seems that we will be marking the anniversary against the backdrop of the absence of an agreement on re-establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive which has been suspended now for over a year.
Some would say that this demonstrates a failure of the agreement. I would ask you to reflect on the fact that it has delivered 20 years of peace, precious peace. I reject the contention that an agreement that has delivered peace could be considered a failure.
The Agreement remains the indispensable framework for providing stable, inclusive, power-sharing government for all the people of Northern Ireland, and for sustaining our interlocking relationships – within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.
As co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government, working with the British Government, has spared no effort in supporting and facilitating talks on the formation of a Northern Ireland Executive, over many months.
Re-establishment of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland remains the Government’s primary concern and the Government is working along with the British Government and all political parties with the objective of re-engagement by all parties in the peace process.
A headline priority for the Government is the potential impact of a UK exit for Northern Ireland and for the peace process. This includes maintaining the open, and effectively invisible, border. Our strong preference would be to advance this critical work in the context of a functioning devolved Executive in Northern Ireland.
While the prospect of Brexit may depress, news on the Irish economy is more uplifting. Owing to the hard work of the Irish people, Ireland’s economic recovery is now firmly established. The increase in economic activity is broad-based and built on a solid foundation.
Unemployment has fallen steadily from a peak of 16% in early-2012 to just 6.1% in January 2018.
Bilateral trade in goods and services between Ireland and the USA is considerable, totalling approximately $100 billion per annum. While the US does have a defecit in trade in goods with Ireland, it also enjoys an almost equally sizable surplus in services trade.
It is a fact that is not always known, Ireland is the 9th largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the US. More than 700 indigenous Irish firms export to the United States. And more than 400 have a US presence, employing almost 100,000 people, across all 50 States.
Our globalised economy reflects our sense of ourselves as a global island, at the heart of Europe. We will remain outward looking. Indeed our Government has committed to expand our global footprint. Just last year the Government opened an Enterprise Ireland office here in Chicago. Enterprise Ireland is the Government agency responsible for helping Irish companies develop their operations and service markets overseas.
As a small globalised island we are also committed to the UN and a rules based international order. We are seeking election to a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for the term 2021-22, to promote the value which we as Irish people hold so dear.
The personal relationships built up through our diaspora and through the Irish American partnership underline and sustain the ties between our nations.
With all this in mind, I would like to thank again the Irish American Partnership for hosting us this morning and for the continued good work that they do.
This weekend is a time to celebrate Ireland and to celebrate being Irish, and to be able to do so in this, one of the great Irish-American cities, is a rare privilege indeed.
Thank you and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all, or as they say at home, especially in this Bliain na Gaeilge, or Year of the Irish language;
Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig oraibh agus
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir