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Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD - Reception with Irish Organisations

Good evening everyone and I’m delighted here in the Consulate to meet you all and have the chance to update you on some developments at home.

I’ve met some of you here before, or back in Ireland, but I am pleased that there are some new faces here too. It’s great that you are all so involved in the Irish community and I hope that you find your engagement with Irish America both professionally and personally rewarding.

I have just completed a visit to New York, followed by a visit to Newfoundland in Canada and the great city of Cincinnati. You may well have heard that Ireland is running for election to the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022. It’s a tough campaign and we are putting full efforts behind it. Last week was an important week for Ireland in that campaign, as it was an opportunity to meet with leaders from across the world at the UN General Assembly.

While I was on this side of the Atlantic, I was determined to call back on the Mid West and use this chance to meet all of you.

Visits like this are an essential feature of our relationship with the US and with Mid West in particular. In this home of the St Patrick’s Day parades and great Irish festivals, I feel that it is important for me as the Minister for the Diaspora to visit you, to nurture that relationship and to listen to your views and concerns.

I was in Chicago earlier this year for the great St. Patrick’s Day experience. On that occasion conversations were about the importance of celebrating our shared heritage. This time I want to take the opportunity this evening to say a few words on developments of interest and importance to Ireland and to friends of Ireland in America that have happened since then – particularly on Northern Ireland and on Brexit.

It has been a year of reflection. This year we have been marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The role of the Irish in America and of Irish America was forefront in the effort to reach that Agreement and has remained essential in the years since. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade colleagues who work on Northern Ireland issues have a constant refrain: “peace is a process; not an event”.

Some of you might have seem “John Hume in America” by Maurice Fitzpatrick, which was supported by the Department, to allow for screenings of the documentary around the US. The documentary chronicles an important narrative in the relationship between Ireland and the US and the vision of John Hume. There is a famous quote from John Hume’s Nobel peace prize acceptance speech which I think serves to remind us of something really vital as we face our current challenges:

“Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.”

The Government is extremely concerned at the continuing absence of the devolved institutions, and of the North South Ministerial Council, and we continue to work intensively to seek an urgent way forward.
Their absence has been far too long, and everyone in Northern Ireland – whatever their political perspective – deserves and expects effective, representative, local devolved institutions to take forward the issues that matter to them, and to represent Northern Ireland’s overall interests.

I do not underestimate the efforts that are required in achieving their reinstatement, however, I firmly believe that a resolution is possible and that the calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate will be heeded.

On the issue of the United Kingdom leaving the EU, the Government has been clear since the beginning of this process that the outcome it is seeking from the EU-UK negotiations must include the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

We cannot allow uncertainty about the border, and its impact on the hard earned peace process, to persist beyond the UK’s withdrawal. Such uncertainty is causing grave concern for communities, North and South.

Our priority now is to conclude the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which encompasses the backstop. As confirmed in Salzburg two weeks ago, the Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has the full support of the EU27 in his efforts to reach an agreement. We agree with Michel Barnier’s approach, to ‘de-dramatise’ the Protocol and focus on agreeing the workable solutions that it offers at its core.

In Salzburg, all partners were agreed that there will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a solid, operational and legally-binding Irish backstop. EU27 solidarity and support for Ireland has been unwavering

We still believe that it’s possible to achieve a negotiated withdrawal and are working towards that. It is still the Government’s view that a ‘no deal’ outcome remains unlikely, but I want to assure you this evening that we are planning for all scenarios.

Over the last number of months, the Government has been reflecting on how best to shape and manage the transatlantic relationship, navigate the current turmoil, in particular around Brexit, and plan seriously for the future. As part of this, Ambassador Mulhall came back to Dublin for a session with most of the Cabinet in early summer to look at the relationship specifically through the EU lens. We have also committed as a Government to publishing a strategy in the coming months on the Americas, including the US, which will guide our approach and engagement here in the years to come.

Ireland is fortunate to have a diaspora which makes such a meaningful contribution to our country and which has played a central role in the Government’s reflections on the transatlantic relationship between Ireland and the US.

Our existing work in this area takes many forms, from strengthening the economic ties between us, to raising awareness of our culture in all its forms and, more generally, creating a positive image of Ireland. There is, in my view, no greater example of this than the vibrant Irish-American community represented here tonight. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, and I remain committed to recognising your efforts by engaging with you both practically and strategically.

One concrete example of this engagement is through our Emigrant Support Programme, which aims to strengthen and encourage our links with communities like yours. We set broad-ranging priorities for the Programme this year, from continuing to address the diverse and evolving needs of Irish emigrants, especially the elderly, disadvantaged and vulnerable to supporting business networks and connecting with the increasingly diverse global Irish.

Over the last 5 years alone over $15.5 million has been provided to Irish diaspora organisations working across the US. We see this as a clear indication of the value the Government places on supporting Irish communities in the United States and of our firm commitment to build on the strong ties with the Irish American community. I was delighted to sit down with you earlier today to hear your ideas, concerns and objectives.

One issue of deep concern to many of you in the room, is immigration. While I have no new update for you this evening, let me assure you that I and my Government colleagues, together with officials here in the US, take every opportunity to raise with the US administration at every level, the position of our fellow Irish citizens who are undocumented. We also highlight the opportunities for the US-Ireland relationship that a new pathway for future immigration flows from Ireland would provide, and will continue to do so.

I hope to come back to you in the near future with the results of the Government’s reflections on the transatlantic relationship between Ireland and the US. I hope to deliver a message of new ideas and new energy, showing how together we can future proof the vital Ireland-US partnership.

So let me say once again how important it is for me to be here this evening and to have this opportunity to meet with you. It is clear that a lot has happened since this time last year. This time next year will also be very different - the UK will have left the European Union and we still don’t know what that will look like. But I can say to you with confidence here this evening that the Government is working hard to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland and we won’t relent.

Your role in that is important too as you are all ambassadors for Ireland in your daily lives. I would ask you to continue to engage through the diaspora networks and the Consulate here in Chicago. Ireland is its people - and you are Ireland.

Thank you.

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