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Remarks by An Tánaiste to the Ireland Funds Annual Conference

Northern Ireland Peace Process, Speech, Northern Ireland, 2011

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your welcome and thank you, Kieran for your introduction.

It is heartening to see so many of you here today, including your future leaders, who have travelled long distances to be here.  I look forward to having the opportunity to meet with you over lunch.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the Ireland Funds and, in particular to you, Loretta, for the inspired leadership you provide to the Funds. 

Ambassador Dan Rooney can’t be with us today but I cannot address you without paying a special tribute to him – not only as a founder of the Funds but as a truly outstanding US Ambassador to Ireland.  

When Dan and Patricia Rooney arrived at the Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, we knew something very special was in store for us. 

In two years Dan has been in virtually every village and town land in Ireland.  It is characteristic of Dan that he wanted to connect not only with leaders and decision makers, but also with the citizens of our country.

Since the establishment of the Funds, you have seen and contributed to momentous change in Ireland.  You were there at the beginning, when many thought the challenges posed by the troubles were insurmountable. Your work gave hope to divided communities across Northern Ireland. You were there to welcome and support the new Northern Ireland Executive when it brought its investment message to the US.

The Ireland Funds have worked over many years, with successive Governments, building successful strategic partnerships within the wider global Irish family. 

What sets you apart is your generosity:  generosity of time and of leadership, especially when times are tough and needs are at their greatest.

You don’t need me to tell you we still face enormous challenges.  Some are old and some new.

When we set out on this journey, our ambition was not simply to end violence; it was to build reconciliation. 

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II showed how far this has advanced. It demonstrated how relations between Ireland and Britain have been transformed and strengthened.  It illustrated the real spirit of mutual respect and friendship that exists between our people.

The presence of the Queen and President Mc Aleese together, in the place where those who died in the cause of Irish independence are commemorated, represented a very meaningful and powerful symbol of reconciliation.

This week’s scenes in East Belfast are a stark reminder that there is yet some way to go.  Stay with us on that journey and continue to work with us in building a new society on this island.

And of course we face economic challenges unmatched in our history.  Some of the factors affecting our economy are outside our hands.

But where we can act we have and we will.  Bill Clinton, when he addressed a gathering last autumn to honour Loretta Brennan Glucksman, said there is only one way to deal with a crisis – face into it.

That’s what this Government has done.  We have taken tough and necessary decisions and we know well that the road ahead will not be easy.

We also know we will come through this.  As President Obama said in College Green last month: “Ireland’s best days are still ahead.”

In spite of our difficulties, Ireland is still regarded as a great place to invest.  We have many strategic advantages to attract global investors in the long term, including our corporation tax rate.  Ireland’s corporation tax rate was negotiated by my Cabinet colleague, Ruairi Quinn, when the Labour Party was last in Government, and you can be assured that this Government is firmly committed to keeping it.

World business leaders like Microsoft, Google, Intel and Facebook recognise Ireland as the pre-eminent location for fresh thinking and a global hub for innovation.

Our exports are at an all-time high.  And we continue to invest in our greatest natural resource, our people.

President Obama’s visit reminded us that we are still "the little country that inspires the biggest things.”

You have been with us throughout our long journey to peace and your commitment to Ireland has been sincere and steadfast.

We know we have a reservoir of goodwill that needs to be mobilised – just as it was mobilised before, so successfully, behind the peace process.

You worked closely with us during the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh in 2009 where many of your members played an important role in making the Forum such a success.

Several very valuable initiatives were implemented as a result of the 2009 Forum across a wide range of sectors. 

It generated awareness of our culture as a great global asset.  We took that message to heart.  The appointment of Gabriel Byrne as Irish Cultural Ambassador and the Imagine Ireland programme across the United States this year have helped develop that asset.

But perhaps the most important outcome was the new level of recognition which it generated here in Ireland for the enormous resource that is the global Irish, and the way in which the Irish at home and abroad can work together to deliver lasting practical achievements.    

I know that many of you here today are also supporting us through the contributions you make through your membership of the Global Irish Network.  That Network now consists of over 300 people from 37 countries.  The membership include some of the most influential individuals abroad who provide Ireland with an invaluable resource of international expertise from which we can draw as we work towards economic recovery.

The Government intends to hold a second Forum at Dublin Castle on 7 and 8 of October 2011. It will provide an opportunity for us to meet directly with many of the most influential members of our diaspora and to discuss our priorities for economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of Ireland’s reputation abroad. 

We will look to practical proposals on areas such as tourism, inward investment, banking, cultural promotion and Ireland’s reputation abroad, job creation and innovation.  The importance of engaging the current and future generations of the global Irish will also be an important theme and this is where your young leaders are helping to show the way.

The Irish writer Colum McCann, accepting the prestigious Impac literary award last week, remarked:  “I believe in optimism as an antidote to cynicism.  I don’t think optimism is easy.”

Like McCann, I believe in optimism. And you, the members and supporters of the Ireland Funds, help make optimism easy.

Help us to get out the message that Ireland has the talent and the resilience to weather this difficult period and emerge stronger than ever before.

Each and every one of you gathered here today is an extraordinary resource for Ireland and I hope that we can continue to turn to you for your wisdom and your leadership as we seek to regain our reputation and rebuild our economy.

With your continued good will and support, I believe that we can shine a light on those qualities - our youth and resilience, ability, determination and above all our optimism – that will ensure our best days really are ahead of us.