Fionnan Sheahan: Clinton departs on upbeat note amid call for even closer links
Hillary Clinton is making her final official visit to Ireland as US Secretary of State. Over the past two decades, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife have endeared themselves to the Irish public through their intense involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process and desire to connect with ordinary people on both sides of the border.
During President Clinton's two terms in office, he made three trips to the country and was constantly greeted by cheering crowds – most memorably when they turned on the Christmas lights in Belfast in 1995, a year after the first IRA ceasefire.
On her visit to Dublin yesterday – for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial council, hosted by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore – her fondness for the country was evident, and her message to the people reeling in the week of a tough Budget was unequivocally upbeat.
Starting at DCU, where she delivered a keynote address on global human rights, she emphasised the links between the two countries. "Now, it goes without saying that for millions of Americans who have family ties to Ireland, including my husband and daughter, and President Obama, this nation is often seen as a second homeland. And, over the years, Ireland has made enormous contributions to America's progress.
"Several of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence were born in Ireland, as were many of the soldiers who fought in our revolution. The Irish helped build America's canals and railroads, overcame suspicion and bigotry to earn their living and educate their children, and rose over time to become leaders in every field of endeavour.
"Now, people around the world often speak of and believe in the American dream, but I think it is fair to say that no people have done more to build that dream and make it real than the Irish. The United States, my country, would not be the country it is today were it not for this nation and its people. And that close kinship – not just a relationship between nations and governments, but a friendship rooted in relationships between people – is as strong as ever."
After a speedy trip into Dublin city centre, Mrs Clinton met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Following the hour-long bilateral, she again returned to the theme of looking ahead to the future of the country – and praised the "resilience" of the Irish people.
She heaped undoubtedly welcome praise on the Government for making what she described as "very tough decisions".
In response to a question from the Irish Independent, she said: "After years of economic turmoil we are delighted to see Ireland on the rebound. And, as I've said, the Taoiseach has taken a number of very tough, important steps that have placed Ireland on the right track.
"This has not been easy. I understand the real sacrifice and even suffering that many people have gone through because of the economic challenges, but the view from the United States is the resilience, the hard work, the determination of the Irish people, you know getting up everyday and getting the job done, coming at it with a practical can-do spirit and an unwavering resolve to meet what lies ahead."
Mrs Clinton also underlined the strong economic position Ireland holds in the US.
"So don't just take my word for it. Take our investors' actions and look at what they're doing, which is understanding that investing in Ireland is a good bet for the future. More than 600 US subsidiaries in Ireland employ more than 100,000 people and these are in good jobs in electronics manufacturing, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, etc.
'And, by comparison, Irish companies employ 80,000 people, so we know these are tough times, we've had some of that ourselves. Our economy is turning around and so is the Irish economy. It is going to take some more time and we want to continue to see our economic relationship grow."
Today, Mrs Clinton heads to Belfast again.
Who knows when she'll be back again – perhaps after 2016 as the 45th President of the United States or, perhaps, accompanying her husband as a future US Ambassador to Ireland?
Regardless, she will always receive a warm welcome.