16 March 2017, White House, Washington DC, USA
TAOISEACH KENNY: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, members of
Congress, ambassadors, friends of Ireland, distinguished guests.
(Speaks in Irish.)
I didn’t say anything disparaging about you there. (Laughter.) What I said was, it’s a pleasure for me to be here, along with my wife, Fionnuala, to be amongst this august gathering. And on behalf of the government of Ireland and the people of Ireland, I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s festival for you all.
They say the Irish have the capacity to change everything. I just saw the President of the United States read from his script, entirely. (Laughter and applause.) I was going to say “a change is coming.” (Laughter.)
Paul, it’s a pleasure. And thank you for your visit to Ireland when you called to see me in government buildings with your family and on your visit down to Kilkenny. When I had the privilege of speaking to the President on the telephone very shortly after his election, I said to him if it would be possible to continue this tradition, which began so many years ago, and he said, without hesitation, of course — followed by the Vice President and U.S. Speaker.
This is a unique occasion for Ireland and for its people. To have the facility of being honored by the Speaker of the House, the access to the President of the United States, the Vice President, and most of the team is something that we really do cherish. It goes back a very long way from when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan and all of the others put this together in the first place. So it’s a really important day for us, and we’re very grateful to stand between these two flags, united in history and so much.
I haven’t had the opportunity to present you with a particular piece of sculpture which is entitled “Arrival,” by John Behan. It’s a miniature — but it’s quite large — of what stands at the United Nations in New York of the tale and the story and the history of Irish immigrants after the famine years.
So let me congratulate you, President Trump, on your election. You beat them all. (Laughter and applause.) Whatever they say, elections are tough-going. I know, I’ve been through 20 of them myself. (Laughter.) But the President and the Vice President and this administration now holds within its hands the responsibility of dealing with so many global international issues in a world that is changing so rapidly and that is so fragile in so many respects. And I know that you will do your utmost to work in the interests of our common humanity, and you will have the prayers and the support of the Irish people. And let me say to you, and the European Union — and the work that you have to do in the times — in the challenging times ahead.
We discussed the kind of driver that the President uses — Titleist, 9-degree loft, Doonbeg, wind off the Atlantic. You have to roll the wrist at the top to get that shot straight. And during the course of this presidency, President Trump will visit Ireland, and he said he would put the sticks in the hold of Air Force One.
Anyway, let me just say a few words here about our country. We’ve come through a torrid time a number of years ago. When I took over the government back in 2011, we were blocked out of all the markets, the Troika were in town, our sovereignty was gone, our hope was gone; hemorrhage of immigration, and a falloff in all business right across every sector.
Now, because of the sacrifices of the people and tough choices made, we’re in a different spot. Unemployment, which was 15.2, is now down to 6.6 percent and falling. Employment is the highest in 10 years. A growth rate of 5.2 percent last year. Fourth year running. Ireland is the fastest-growing country in Europe. Deficit eliminated next year. Two million-plus working now. I was accused in Cork three weeks ago of blocking up the Irish roads with people going to work. (Laughter and applause.) That’s the challenge of success, I suppose.
It’s fair to say, as you know, Mr. President, we’ve got 700 Irish firms, and 65 percent of the 700 firms working in America have a full-time presence in this market. And they now employ 100,000 people across 50 states. And that’s because of our participation in the European Union and the confidence that our people have to expand now beyond their own shores. And this two-way conduit is to the mutual benefit of our people and of the United States. And let me say that Ireland and the European Union will never be anything but a friend to your country, to these United States here. (Applause.)
And I want you to understand that all administrations, over the last 40 years and beyond, have worked in the interests of the fragility of our country. We’ve had our troubles. We’ve had real difficulties. And George Mitchell spoke last night at the Ireland Funds about the contribution that both Europe, and particularly the United States, made towards putting that fragile peace together. We’re glad to see Ian Paisley here and, indeed, Gerry Adams, who have had their difficulties. We have put it all together and have maintained a fragile peace. And that’s why it’s important that we recognize the contribution made by the United States to that peace, where we have no border and where people can live their lives as one would expect to contribute to their country and their economies. And all presidents and all administrations over the years have assisted us in that regard. (Applause.)
So we want to protect this peace process, and I know that you’re going to work with us in that context also. We have agreed with the British government that there would be no return to the border, as it used to apply years ago, with customs, posts on major roads, and every other road blown up or impassable because of sectarian violence that that brought with it. We have banished that. We want to see it remain banished. And the political agreement is no return to that kind of border of the past, and the challenge is to implement that in a way that works in the interests of the people North and South.
And let me say to you that as a member of the European Council, what we want to do is to work with America. I believe genuinely, with Europe having created 4.5 million jobs in the last three years, that we can work with the United States to create more employment here, create opportunities for so many millions of Americans. And it may well be that in a revised trade agenda, that we can do that to the mutual benefit of 500 million people in the European Union and your population here across the United States. We will work with this administration, Paul and Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, in the interests of everybody.
Thank you, Peter King, and thank you, Richard Neal — I know you’re here somewhere — for the work you’ve done over the years with the (inaudible). (Applause.) It may well be that it might be appropriate for the government and the administration to have a desk here in Washington which will associate itself with Northern Ireland, so that in the event of contact having to be made, that there’s a voice to answer that.
You had in the past envoys appointed to Northern Ireland on practically a full-time basis. I think we can work now as a priority to get this executive up and running in the next short period. But to have continued connection here with the administration would be very important, and I’m sure Peter and Rich will work at that.
I just want to say, I had a very good meeting this morning with the Vice President and with General John Kelly. Sitting at the table, we were hosted by the Vice President in the traditional breakfast in the Naval Observatory. Didn’t get much chance to eat the breakfast, I have to say; it’s one of the difficulties in politics — it’s in front of you but you can’t get near it. (Laughter.) We did discuss the question of immigration, which is so important to the fabric of our people. And I know that in this country, this is an issue that the administration and the President are reflecting upon. And that’s something that, again, we will work with you diligently in this regard in the two sectors that we used to have a facility for E3 visas for young people who want to come to America and to work here. We discussed that very constructively this morning.
And secondly, as a part of the overall immigration reform that the Irish have contributed so much, it would be part of that. And we look forward to the works that will take place at the time ahead.
You might say that when Mike Pence’s grandfather landed here in Ellis Island in 1923, that the contribution had been made by so many Irish for so many years. It was in 1771 that the friendly Sons of St. Patrick were put together in Philadelphia, and one of their first honorary members was a young man called George Washington. And seven years later, he handed the first commission to a naval officer called John Barry, who was co-founder of the American Navy. And he was joined later by John Holland, who designed the first submarine. And he was followed by Louis Brennan, from my hometown, who had a major impact on the navigation systems for torpedoes.
And so many others, from Henry Ford, through music and culture, and so many other areas, that 22 members of the American Presidents who sat in the White House had either Scots or Irish blood in them. And you follow in that line, sir.
And I’d just like to say in finality, this is what I said to your predecessor on a number of occasions: We would like this to be sorted. It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can. And that’s what people want. (Applause.)
I know you’ll reflect on this, but I’m always struck by the American National Anthem when it’s sung before the great occasions. And I suppose being an emotional Irishman, the hairs tingle at the back of your neck when you hear your own national anthem. But for us, when Old Glory waves, and you put your hand on your heart and you say, “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” ours is still as brave as ever, but maybe not as free. Because of the 4,000 Congressional Medals of Honor given out to the defense forces, over 2,000 go to the Irish Americans. So they fought in the Revolutionary War. They beat the daylights out of each other in Fredericksburg and Gettysburg and Yorktown, and other places, in Atlanta. They fought every war for America and died for America — and will continue to do so. All they want is the opportunity to be free.
And this administration, working with Democrats and Republicans, I hope, can sort this out once and for all. And for future years, you determine what it is that you want to do. As George Mitchell said last evening, you can’t return to open immigration, but for the people who are here — who should be here, might be here — that’s an issue that I’m sure your administration will reflect on. And we in Ireland will give you every assistance in that regard.
There are millions out there who want to play their part for America — if you like, who want to make America great. (Laughter.) Heard it before? Heard that before? (Applause.)
So I see Vicki here in front of me. We didn’t get as far as the Kennedy Center the other evening. I was talking to young people the other day, they were on about all the different things that are happening in the world, and they reminded me of one of JFK’s statements: “This is our planet. Together, we shall save or we shall perish in its flames.”
We have work to do. Let’s eat. Thank you.