16th March, 2011

National Gala

The American Ireland Fund 19th annual National Gala is being described as “a beautiful evening, for a beautiful cause.” On Wednesday, March 16, 2011 more than 750 people attended the national gala in Washington, D.C. Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny and his wife joined more than 40 members of Congress and esteemed gala chairs for the spirited evening highlighting the on-going partnership between the U.S. and Ireland.

During Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s first remarks in America since his election, he thanked attendees for their contributions to the Promising Ireland Campaign. In all, the gala raised more than 750 thousand dollars for The Ireland Funds’ good work of supporting programs of peace, reconciliation, education and development throughout Ireland.

The Fund honored Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley with the 2011 Leadership Award for his work in promoting peace and encouraging support for Ireland during his political career. Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania accepted his award as the 2011 recipient of the Public Service Award.

Gov. O’Malley and Cong. Joe Crowley surprised guests at the end of the evening as they took the stage, performing Irish music for guests at the reception. The ornate architecture of the National Building Museum made an exceptional background for the event.

Keynote Address (transcript)
Speech by An Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD, The American Ireland Fund
19th National Gala, National Building Museum, Washington DC , 16 March 2011

Thank you all for your welcome. Thank you, Loretta, for your introduction.

Let me begin by paying tribute to The American Ireland Fund and in particular to you, Loretta, for the inspired leadership you provide. We are very grateful for your firm friendship and your wise counsel.

You are helping to the change the relationship between Ireland and America, as have so many great Irish Americans in our history. Of course, one of the foremost among them was Ireland’s great friend, Speaker Tip O’Neill. As you know, his daughter Susan O’Neill put in so much work to help bring tonight’s event together.

I am proud to stand here as Taoiseach and to honour the memory of her father, the great Speaker Tip O’Neill, tonight. I also want to pay tribute to two other prime-movers of this fund who are present with us here tonight – Dan and Patricia Rooney. When Dan and Patricia 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 townland in Ireland.  It is characteristic of Dan that he wanted to connect not only with leaders and decision makers but with ordinary people. I have to confide in you, we were concerned that if Dan stood for office in Ireland, he would beat us all into second place. Happily, Dan stood back from the elections. But you won’t be surprised if I tell you that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ largest fan base, outside Pittsburgh, is now in Ireland !

We also honour this evening some of the finest public representatives in this country, who are helping define the future of the relationship between America and Ireland: Congressman Peter King, Chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Congressman Richie Neal, Congressman Tim Murphy and Governor Martin O’Malley.

We are very fortunate indeed in our friends here in public service. In you we have strong partners in whose hands, we know, the Irish American relationship can only flourish and prosper. And of course, being Irish, some of you an hold a tune as well !

Ladies and Gentlemen, Exactly a week ago, I was elected Taoiseach by Dáil Eireann. I am the twelfth person to hold that office. I am not the first to address this great gathering in Washington DC, but I believe no Taoiseach has addressed you within his first week of office. I bring a simple message of faithful friendship. I recall the moment fifty years ago this year, when John F Kennedy broke new ground for so many Irish in this country by becoming the first catholic to be elected President. When he visited Ireland two years later, President Kennedy recalled the observation of Benjamin Franklin, who had himself visited Ireland almost two centuries before: “Members of the Irish parliament are disposed to be friends of America.  By joining our interest with theirs a more equitable treatment might be obtained for both our nations”.

That remains as true today as ever. Be assured, under my leadership, Ireland will remain a staunch friend of the United States of America. These are extraordinary times for Ireland. Once again, we find ourselves being tested as we have so often been in our history. No-one underestimates the challenges ahead. But we know what we have to do, and we will do it. Three weeks ago the people of Ireland had their chance to assert their will in the elections. They chose a strong, stable coalition Government with the ability to chart a determined course over the next number of years. We need to reduce our deficit urgently.  That will mean painful fiscal choices.  But that’s not something I need to explain to an American audience. We need to conclusively stabilise our banks and get them back to productive lending. We need to protect and create jobs for our people, through enterprise and innovation at home and trade and investment abroad. And we have to prove ourselves the hardworking, innovative, educated people we know we are, to drive our economy through new levels of competitiveness to recovery and renewal.

I firmly believe that we can do it.  There are reasons to be optimistic. Our exports are very strong, growing at an annualized rate of 13% by the end of 2010. We are gaining competitiveness rapidly – we have a highly skilled labour force, business costs are down and companies are paying attention. Our commitment to an open business environment, and our 12.5% corporate tax rate, are here to stay.  That’s our business model.  It has worked for us.  It has worked for US and global companies using Ireland as a base of operations to access half a billion European consumers.

Inward investment continues.  In the last year alone, Intel, Google, eBay, Facebook, Citigroup, Boston Scientific, and many others have expanded operations or increased their R&D in Ireland.  These are top companies who are on the ground in Ireland, who have done the figures, and they see their future there supporting their global success and, ultimately, supporting jobs in America.

Irish companies are succeeding like never before in the global marketplace.  Ireland is already the 13th largest foreign direct investor into the US with cumulative investments valued at over $34 billion. There are over 200 Irish companies in the US, with 2,600 offices located in all 50 States, and that means 82,000 American jobs. As I said, we know it’s up to us in Ireland to face up to our problems and deal with them.

But we know we can count on our friends to speed our way.

During the peace process in Northern Ireland, our friends here came together and they put their energy behind the momentum for peace – from Presidents of the United States to Presidents of city and county Irish clubs, from the dedicated work of the American Ireland Fund to the goodwill of every US citizen for a better way forward.

Later this month, the Northern Ireland Assembly will have its final session before the democratic election to be held in May. This will be the first time in the history of Ireland that a power-sharing administration, with full powers over a wide range of areas including policing and justice, will have run a full term. That is a historic achievement that should inspire us all to believe that change is possible and the highest barriers can be overcome. I salute the First and deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and all of their colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive, for their leadership.

I assure you all that my Government will build on the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement as we move forward to a new era in Northern Ireland.

A Chairde, The new challenge now facing all of the people of Ireland is to bring about economic recovery. I know there is a renewed desire to help here in the US. The response to The Ireland Funds’ Promising Ireland campaign shows beyond doubt that it is there more than ever, and I thank those of you who have already contributed so generously to its target of $100 million by 2013.

What else can you do?  I ask you to stay with us on our journey. Know that Ireland will bounce back. Stay engaged and informed. Be advocates for us.

If we want our international reputation restored, we know that means getting the substance right first.  That’s what we’ll do. Please help us tell that story. Help us to rebuild the image of Ireland. Be connectors for us as you always have, for Irish people and companies who come out. Be mentors, be supporters. Give us your honest advice.  Come to us with ideas for new partnerships. Stay alive to opportunities to do business with Ireland, to make use of our brand new state of the art convention centre and to invest in Ireland. Support the Irish arts in America.  We have a year-long programme happening right now – Imagine Ireland. 

Ambassador Collins and our Consulates, Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Tourism Ireland and our agencies on the ground here – they are here to help you in any way they can. And for those of you who have not been back to Ireland in too long, or never have, this is the year to come home! And may I personally recommend County Mayo. If your family doesn’t actually come from there, you’ll want to pretend they did!

Ladies and Gentlemen, This visit is, I hope, the opening of a new and lively dialogue with you. I am honoured by the invitation to address this gathering tonight in your nation’s capital. I look forward to visiting with the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as we celebrate our national day tomorrow. As I contemplate the challenges before us, it is good to be amongst friends. I know that our new Government will be judged on how we fix the economic challenges we face, how we put our people back to work, how we reduce the debt faced by our children and how we reforms our politics. But I want to let you know that I will judge myself also on whether we have advanced and strengthened our relationship with the United States and its people. 

I know that I can count on your support in doing both.

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Phádraig. Happy St Patrick’s Day. Thank you.

Acceptance Speech (transcript)
Governor Martin O’Malley, 2011 American Ireland Fund Leadership Award
The American Ireland Fund 19th National Gala
National Building Museum, Washington DC, 16 March 2011

Congressman Neal thank you very, very much.  All of us owe you a debt of gratitude for fighting to save federal funding for the International Fund for Ireland.

It really is a humbling honor to be here with all of you.  To Kieran McLoughlin, and to Susan O’Neill, and to everyone with the American Ireland Fund, thank you for this honor. 

Thank you, Katie O’Malley, for being here with me tonight – the First Lady of Maryland.  To my mom Barbara O’Malley who is so very proud to be here tonight.  To my sister Eileen, thank you for being here as well.

To First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness, who both visited Annapolis not so very long ago, I know that I speak for my fellow Governor from Connecticut Dan Malloy when I say that Governors are looking forward to working with you to create jobs through trade on both sides of the Atlantic.  The most important thing you can do for Ireland and for America is to create jobs now, and I look forward to working with our envoy, Declan Kelly and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make that happen in the years ahead.

I am humbled to follow on the forward-looking words of the new Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny. 

It is indeed a new time in Ireland.  In Ireland and America both, we are re-tuning ourselves.  And, if any of you have heard me sing, you will know that there is no public official in America who appreciates the necessity of re-tuning more than I do!  My children are fond of saying "Dad would really love to sing,… if only he could,… "

If I were to sing tonight, it would certainly be a song of gratitude to the American Ireland Fund: one of the great international organizations in this world.  A thanks to you – its supporters.  A thanks to the representatives of the Irish government and the diplomatic corps and the journalists and media.  And thanks to the people of Ireland and Irish-America,… our inspiration. 

I'd like to talk with you ever so briefly about being Irish, about being American; about the darkness and light of these days; and about being and belonging on both sides of the Atlantic.

Growing up 3rd generation Irish in America, the music of Ireland filled our house– not just in March, but year round. The six of us were raised with a personal sense of responsibility to help heal this too often sad and troubled world of ours.  This sense was informed not only by the service of my father and grandfathers in World Wars, and politics, but also by the songs of the Minstrel Boy, Roddy McCorley, and Óró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile; and by the sacrifice of the Mass, and the holy women and men – many of them Irish – who taught us the alphabet, algebra and the Rosary.

I have visited Ireland many times for the joy of it. Reuniting with the warm and kind people that my great-grandfather left behind in the Maam Valley of the Galway mountains, and I’m glad to report that thanks to the internet, we have made up for 120 years of not writing in a very short period of time.

I am intensely proud of the healing role that America has played, and must continue to play, in the emerging story of the island of my ancestors.

The truth we affirm tonight is this: Ireland and America are word-linked.  We are heart-linked.  We are linked by our imaginations.  We are linked by our histories. When you extend your hand, we extend ours with you.  When you take a punch, we take a punch alongside you.  And when you spark out with brilliance, we catch that spark. And what gives off the deepest spark of all is the spark of recognition.  May it always be so. 

All things Irish are written deep,… and felt deeply.  We have always had times when out of difficulty comes great promise.  We can glance at yesterday, or we can gaze into the distant past.  The famine of the 1840's, in its own way, produced a vibrant new Irishness all around the world.  Ireland's decades of emigration from the 1950's onwards taught many of us how to make up for what is lost.  The Troubles in the North, in the 70's and 80's, for all their sadness and loss of life, produced for the world a whole new theory and practice of peace. 

The worn forces of centuries and sea have consistently brought about a new landscape.  And Ireland has always recovered well.  Yes, we have recently been rocked on both sides of the Atlantic by this moment of fiscal and economic darkness. But unlike our dear neighbors in Japan, the difficulties from which we must rebuild are merely the economic results of human choices.

It is absolutely essential in order to move forward that we not give up on the presumption of our Irish and our American optimism.  Cynics, you know, are "two a penny."  Cynicism is easy.  True optimism is brave. True optimism understands in the words of the Irish poet, John O'Donohue, that "darkness is the great canvas against which beauty becomes visible."   True optimism has the ability to recognize what is dark while climbing to what it knows is an abundance of light. 

This room – if you look around you – is filled with just such light.  It is – in so many ways – a living embodiment of President Mary Robinson's candles in the window.  Here we are in Washington D.C, but I hope souls in the homes of Galway and Belfast and Dublin and Cork can see the candles shining from our windows all the way from here. 

Those candles come in the form of people like Loretta Brennan Glucksman, who has always believed in the power of light.  She – and everyone connected with the American Ireland Fund –have lit candles on both sides of a dark ocean; a light that gets brighter when it finds another light.  It is a declaration of hope, a declaration of being, a spark of recognition, a fire of belonging.  It means that we can belong in both places. 

In conclusion, our duty is to recognize the light in one another, and fire the common flame of hope that is. Help the peace process endure.  Help businesses expand opportunity.  Allow the artists the space to create.  Allow community the shared deep breath that overcomes division.

We become the generous and caring people who we are in response to adversity.
We – with our immigrant voices; we – whose Irish accent has deepened even if the music of it has changed; we – who return by staying; we – who step into the future carrying the bravery of the past,… we believe. 

The Ireland that we can inhabit, the America that we can inhabit, are places that we can imagine.  And the places we can imagine are places of great promise.  It is such an honor to feel a part of both nations.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh (Guh rev meal-a mah ag-uiv) A thousand thanks to all.  And Happy Saint Patrick's Day.