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Saturday 16 February 2019

Cowen signals new era of 'mature' US--Irish relations

'The peace process has not just been about reconciliation at home. We now have a reconciled diaspora'

Fionnan Sheahan in New York

IRELAND's relationship with the United States can no longer be defined against a backdrop of political upheaval and economic deprivation, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said yesterday.

Speaking at the end of his first State visit to the US as Taoiseach, Mr Cowen declared that Ireland's historic relationship with America had entered a new era.

He said the political narrative had changed from constantly asking for economic and political help to acceptance of the new reality, which both countries must now reflect upon.

"Ireland's relationship with America has now reached a new level of maturity that allows us to look to the future with confidence," Mr Cowen said.

"With great help from our friends in America, we have achieved an island that is at peace and which enjoys unprecedented prosperity."

Mr Cowen launched a strategic review of the relationship between Ireland and the US.

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins will be carrying out a comprehensive assessment of how to develop the relationship -- to be submitted before the end of the year.

Mr Cowen said it was timely to review what the agenda from now on would be. The peace process had changed the relationship with the Irish community in the USA and presented opportunities, he said.

Peace

"I think one important point that's very clear: one of the consequences of the peace process has not just been about the prospects for reconciliation at home, but we now have a reconciled diaspora abroad.

"As you know, the politics of Ireland has been a divisive issue for the diaspora for very many years. I think that now we have a reconciled diaspora around the implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements. I think that's a very important development -- where we can focus now on positive, constructive engagement on the economic and social issues.

"It gives a fair opportunity for the Government to assume a significant leadership role in the development of that relationship in Ireland, and the diaspora, and between Ireland and America -- that bilateral relationship," he said.

On the final day of his first trip to the United States as Taoiseach, Mr Cowen also met with Congressman Richie Neal, the chairman of the Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill. The pair discussed the present economic climate and ongoing efforts to strike a deal for illegal Irish immigrants. Mr Cowen insisted he painted "a realistic picture" of the Irish economy while visiting the US.

The Taoiseach's Economic Advisory Board apparently warned Mr Cowen of the massive gap between the average industrial wage in Ireland and in the USA, but Mr Cowen said it was only right wages would rise with economic growth.

Proud

"I'm very proud of the fact this Government, since it was returned some time ago, has brought the industrial wage to what it is, and that we have a taxation policy that provides 80pc of people with an effective tax rate of 20pc on their income.

"These are the sort of taxation and other policies that have promoted enterprise, that have created the jobs we have. But there is obviously no room for complacency. And I have said where the situation tightens, where it gets more competitive, Ireland has to respond or put at risk the pre-eminent position that we have developed for ourselves," he said.

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