Thursday 20 June 2019

The great day of hope has dawned

The following is an abridged version of the address by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress, Washington DC, yesterday.


Your invitation to address this Joint Meeting this morning honours my country and honours me also. It reaffirms the enduring bonds of friendship and esteem between our two peoples and between our two republics. Those bonds have been built and nurtured and refreshed over the centuries. America and Ireland have something that goes beyond a friendship between countries. To be an Irishman among Americans is to be at home. So, Madam Speaker, I stand here before you as a proud son of Ireland. And I stand with you as a steadfast friend of the United States of America.

Irish links to America:

Parnell turned to the United States, as have many Irish leaders since, as we strove to emulate the achievements of America and to vindicate the principles that inspired your founding fathers: the principles of liberty, of equality and of justice.

In the early part of the last century, Eamon de Valera came here seeking help as Ireland struggled for her independence.

In more recent times, many Irish leaders have come here in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland.

Whenever we have asked for help, America has always been there for us -- a friend in good times and in bad.

From the very outset, Ireland gave to America presidents, patriots and productive citizens of a new nation.

Beginning with the Scots-Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries, they came from all corners of our island and from all creeds.

The Irish helped to build America.

undocumented Irish:

The New Ireland -- once a place so many left -- is now a place to which so many come. These newcomers to our society have enriched the texture of our land and of our lives.

We are working, as are you, to welcome those who contribute to our society as they lift up their own lives, while we also address the inevitable implications for our society, our culture, our community and our way of life.

So we are profoundly aware of those challenges as we ask you to consider the case of our undocumented Irish immigrant community in the United States today. We hope you will be able to find a solution to their plight that would enable them to regularise their status and open to them a path to permanent residency.

There is of course a wider issue for Congress to address. And it is your definitive right to address it in line with the interests of the American people.

I welcome the wise words of your President when he addressed you on the State of the Union earlier this year and said he hoped to find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally, to resolve a complicated issue in a way that upholds both America's laws and her highest ideals.

On this great issue of immigration to both our shores, let us resolve to make the fair and rational choices, the practical and decent decisions, so that in future people will look back and say: They chose well. They did what was right for their country.


The Irish are to be found in the police departments and the fire houses, in the hospitals, the schools and the universities, in the board rooms and on the construction sites, in the churches and on the sports fields of America.

Their contribution is seen in much of the great literature, film, art and music that America has given to the world.

Each of them is a green strand woven into the American dream.

In all of America, there is Irish America.

september 11:

On September 11, 2001, some of the most terrible, evil events in world history occurred. Close to Ellis Island, near this very building and in the skies and fields of Pennsylvania.

It is a day that is etched into the memory of all humanity.

On that day, Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York Fire Department and the son of Irish immigrants from Co Leitrim, rushed to the World Trade Centre to help those who were in danger and to minister to the injured and the dying.

Along with so many other good, innocent people, Fr Mike died inside the Twin Towers that day.

He was officially designated Victim Number 1. Of course, he was no more important than any other victim. He was just a simple man of faith and of courage trying to help others.

In recognition of the bravery of all who died on that terrible day, I am deeply honoured to be joined here today by some of Fr Mike's comrades from the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department.

I honour them and all of their fallen comrades -- those who fell on that day and all who have fallen doing their duty to serve the people.

There was a day of national mourning in Ireland after 9/11. Every city, town and village fell silent in remembrance of the dead.

The names on the casualty list of the terrorist attack included Boyle, Crotty, Collins, Murphy, McSweeney and O'Neill -- our names, the names of our families and our friends, the names of our nation.

There are many other names too, from many other nations. Those attacks were an attack on the free nations of the world and on humanity itself.

No words of mine then or now can adequately address such an immense tragedy. But I could not come to this place today without pausing to reflect and to remember and honour those who died. Our hearts and prayers remain with their families.

Ar Dheis De go raibh a nanam dilis go leir.

the relationship between America and Ireland:

In Ireland, we firmly believe our experience of hardship and of forced emigration is at an end. For that achievement, too, we owe so much to America.

Our two countries are reaping the rewards together. We are investing in each other's economies, bringing together our entrepreneurial energy and creating employment across Ireland and across America.

That is the true measure of our economic achievements together. It points to a friendship every bit as strong in the future as it is today.

lisbon treaty:

Soon, the Irish people will vote on a new reform treaty that aims to make the European Union work even more effectively, both internally and in the wider world. I trust in their wisdom to support and to believe in Europe, as they always have.

international relations:

For over half a century, Irish men and women have served the cause of peace under the United Nations flag.

They have served in the Congo and in the Lebanon, on the borders between Israel and Syria and between Iraq and Iran, in Cyprus, in Eritrea, in Liberia, in East Timor, in Bosnia in Kosovo and in Afghanistan.

Some have paid the ultimate price and they have given their lives in that noble service.

Never has the expression "the global village" been more appropriate. The great challenges that we face in the 21st century are truly global.

Falling financial markets, rising food and energy prices and climate change are global phenomena.

Eradicating poverty, starvation and disease, countering international terrorism and containing nuclear proliferation are not national but international issues.

They cannot be overcome except by countries working together.

The long and proud tradition of Irish missionaries, of teachers, of nurses and of doctors working around the globe to combat poverty, hunger and disease continues today.

For us, famine and oppression are not tragedies that could only happen elsewhere. They happened to us at a sad time in our history. They happened to those who fled here and helped build America and to the many who did not survive that fateful journey across the ocean.

For that more than any other reason, we recognise our obligation to share what we have with the poor of the world.

That is why Ireland is committed to reach the United Nations aid target by 2012.

Today, we are the sixth largest per capita donor of development assistance in the world.

The strength of our efforts to tackle poverty, to cure disease and to feed the hungry in the developing world is a measure of our common humanity.

Today, Irish soldiers are in Chad as part of a UN-mandated force, led by an Irish officer, protecting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from conflict in that country and in neighbouring Darfur.

America has shown the way in its commitment to healing the conflict in Sudan and in Africa as a whole. And you have given huge support and leadership to the peace process in the Middle East.

That terrible conflict has been a central challenge to the world, and a cause of pain and suffering to the Israeli and Palestinian people, for far too long. We must succeed in our collective international efforts to secure a peaceful future for the people of Israel and Palestine.

good friday agreement:

This year, in Ireland, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

It was a defining moment in Ireland's history. In the years since then, some doubted that the Agreement would endure.

I never did.

I knew it would last because it is built on the highest ideals of democracy -- the ideals of liberty, of equality, of justice, of friendship and of respect for our fellow men and women.

Above all, the settlement of 1998 will flourish because of one simple and unalterable fact.

It represents the will, democratically expressed, North and South, of all of the people of Ireland to live together in peace.

That is far more powerful than any words of hatred or any weapon of terror.

In 1981, in much darker days for my country, the Friends of Ireland in the United States Congress were founded. Their purpose was to seek a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland.

The statement, placed on the Congressional Record during a session chaired by Speaker Tip O'Neill, read: "We look forward to a future St Patrick's Day, one that we can foresee, when true peace can finally come and Irish men and women everywhere, from Dublin to Derry, from Boston and New York to Chicago and San Francisco shall hail that peace and welcome the dawn of a new Ireland."

On St Patrick's Day 2008, a few short weeks ago, I came here to Washington. I came with a simple and extraordinary message: That great day of hope has dawned. Our prayer has been answered. Our faith has been rewarded. After so many decades of conflict, I am so proud, Madam Speaker, to be the first Irish leader to inform the United States Congress: Ireland is at peace.

America's contribution to the peace process:

Our dream, and the dream of all of the friends of Ireland in America and across the world, has come true.

To you, to your predecessors and to all of the American leaders from both sides of the aisle who have travelled with us, we offer our heartfelt gratitude.

We also recognise the steadfast support of President Bush, of President Clinton, their administrations, their envoys and of their predecessors.

Beyond Washington, there are so many others, whether amongst the dedicated leaders of Irish America, or in the smallest towns and communities across this nation, who have supported us and who never gave up hope that a solution would be found. We have all shared that journey together.

When we needed true champions of peace, when we needed true friends, when we needed inspiration, we found them here. We found them among you.

Many of us found inspiration in the words of Doctor Martin Luther King, whose life we recall this year on the 40th anniversary of his death.

We believed, to borrow Dr King's immortal phrase, that we would be able to transform the jangling discords into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

His dream, born of America but heard by the whole world, inspired us through its unanswerable commitment to justice and to non-violence.

We discovered that peace can be found without suspending your moral judgment, without sacrificing your identity and without surrendering your most deeply held political aspirations.

Today, as I stand before you in this great democratic assembly, I struggle to convey the enormous good that was done by so many people in my country, with your help.

Do not underestimate the good you have done. Do not forget the legacy you have forged. And if ever you doubt America's place in the world, or hesitate about your power to influence events for the better, look to Ireland.

Look to the good you have done. Look at the richness of so many individual futures that now stretch out before us for generations, no longer subject to conflict and violence. Look to the hope and confidence that we now feel on our island.

The healing of history.

Look and be glad.

Similarities between Irish and US politics:

Our societies are increasingly diverse. Side by side with great wealth and prosperity, we still see social exclusion and poverty.

We endeavour to help families and communities ravaged by a minority who engage in crime or deal in drugs.

We strive to deliver quality, affordable healthcare to all our people.

We want the best education for our children.

We seek to provide social protection and security for our older people, to recognise what they have given to help create our successful societies.

These are the challenges for modern Ireland, just as they are throughout America and across the developed world.

These are the very essence of politics.

That is why, with all our faults as human beings, we seek the honour of representing the people.

We believe that diversity does not have to mean fragmentation or discord.

We believe that wealth and prosperity does not have to be accompanied by poverty and inequality.

We believe that evil or injustice need not -- and will not --triumph.

We believe -- we insist -- that all that is good and just is also possible.

We believe in our republics and our forms of government, in which the sovereign power resides in the whole body of the people, and is exercised by representatives elected by the people.

An American President once said: "The supreme purpose of history is a better world".

Making a better world is also the supreme purpose of representative politics in our two democratic republics.

Taoiseach's last days in office:

I will shortly step down from the office of Taoiseach after almost 11 years.

I am honoured to have been elected by the Irish people to serve them in that great office.

Tomorrow, as I journey home to Ireland for the last time as Taoiseach, I will travel to the great city of Boston in Massachusetts.

There, I will join our great friend Senator Edward Kennedy and pay tribute to President Kennedy and to Robert Kennedy -- great Irishmen, great Americans and great leaders.

In doing so, I will pay fitting tribute to all the Irish in America.

On May 6, I will go to that famous field on the banks of the River Boyne in Ireland where, over three centuries ago, fierce and awful battle was waged between the Protestant King William and the Catholic King James.

It was not just an Irish battle. It was part of a wider European struggle of power, of politics and of religion.

For centuries after, the two sides on that field remained apart and remained divided.

Today, both sides, proud of their history and confident of their identity, can come together in peace and part in harmony.

They can offer each other the open hand of friendship. They will reaffirm again what Ireland has achieved and what we know in our hearts to be true.

Centuries of war, of strife and of struggle are over, and over for good. The field of slaughter is now a meeting place of mutual understanding.

Our children will live in peace. And their children will enjoy the fruits of their inheritance.

This is the triumph of people and of politics.

This is the achievement of democracy.

The great achievement of Ireland and the great blessing of peace.

On that same day, I will go to the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese -- a woman who rose from the conflict-torn streets of Belfast to be elected our Head of State and our First Citizen.

I will offer her my resignation as Taoiseach.

I will humbly hand over the seal of office which I have so proudly held.

Finally, on the morning after, in the hours before my worthy successor steps forward to stand in my stead, I will stand silently at the simple graves of the patriot dead who proclaimed Ireland's republic and who fought for Ireland's freedom at Easter 1916.

There I will discharge my last duty as Taoiseach and pay the homage that Ireland owes to those men and those women.

And I will recall the words of the 1916 Proclamation, so resonant of the United States Declaration of Independence and so relevant to humanity around the world:

"The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally."

These are the values on which Ireland stands.

These are the values by which I strive to live.

The vindication of these universal values is the highest tribute we can pay to those who have gone before and the greatest legacy that we can bequeath for those who are yet to come.

There are no finer words with which to finish and upon which to say: In history, in politics and in life, there are no ends, only new beginnings.

Let us begin.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

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