Sunday 22 September 2019

Our two nations' friendship is flourishing in numerous ways

At Thanksgiving, we count our shared blessings, writes US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Reece Smyth

US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Reece Smyth
US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Reece Smyth

Reece Smyth

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. When Uncle Sam gathers his family around the table, there is always an honoured place for his Irish cousin. In the past year, we at the embassy have experienced the amazing depth of our historic, political, economic, and cultural ties. It is a unique relationship between two countries. There is no other quite like it. Today, I would like to honour a Thanksgiving tradition by counting the many blessings we share as two peoples united by friendship.

I am thankful for the incredible opportunity to serve my country as charge d'affaires (this fancy French title simply means acting ambassador) to Ireland. We are often asked what the absence of an ambassador means for the Irish-American relationship. The ambassadorship to Ireland is a highly coveted position, typically occupied by someone who has the ear of the president. It is normal to have a gap between ambassadors every four years when we elect a new president.

The duration of the gap in no way reflects on the relationship but rather is a function of the extensive vetting of our ambassadors, which includes confirmation hearings in the US Senate. We can assure you that whoever President Trump selects will be an advocate for the strong Irish-American partnership.

I am thankful to lead the strongest embassy team I have known in my 19 years in the diplomatic corps. Ireland's voice matters in Washington, which makes the embassy's role all the more important as we engage extensively with your government on the topics that matter most to you. Our top priority is to protect and strengthen this bond to hand over to a new ambassador. Until that person arrives, the embassy will continue to carry out the full range of diplomatic functions.

In the meantime, we are working with the Taoiseach on matters of mutual interest and frankly discussing areas of disagreement - as candid friends do. The effects of Brexit and cross-border peace and reconciliation efforts remain top priorities for the Embassy and the US government. The United States is steadfastly committed to engaging with all parties as they build on the political and economic progress made since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This will not change. In the immediate term, we urge Sinn Fein and the DUP to work together and facilitate the re-establishment of Northern Ireland's regional government so Northern Ireland can have a meaningful voice in the Brexit negotiations.

My team and I are thankful for the prosperity that results from the mutually beneficial "two-way street" of trade and investment.

Once a country lane, US-Irish commercial activity is now a superhighway valued at over $590bn. Irish firms, like CRH and Glanbia, have already invested over $85bn and employ more than 80,000 people in the US. The titans of Irish enterprise tell us the business climate in the States has never been better. To help Irish investors prosper, our embassy recently opened a SelectUSA office, one of only 12 in the world. This office focuses exclusively on assisting Irish companies of all sizes to succeed in the American marketplace and can make valuable contacts with state and local governments to navigate the US regulatory system. On the other side of the economic street, we are supporting the more than 700 American firms in Ireland as they attract record foreign direct investment.

We also work closely with the American Chamber of Commerce to help our firms succeed in Ireland, creating more economic opportunity for both of our countries.

Cybersecurity is a particular space in which we see openings to share knowledge and experiences that will benefit both public and private sectors, again building on the strong bonds between our two countries. As we learned from the successful recent visit of Jeanette Manfra, the lead on cybersecurity in the US Department of Homeland Security, a collaborative approach among the Irish government, the US government and US firms operating here is the best way to combat these threats that respect no borders.

We are further thankful for the incredible goodwill and hospitality of the Irish people. We have travelled the four corners of this beautiful country and have been overwhelmed by the Irish hospitality and, yes, the craic. We return that hospitality in part by building bridges with our robust outreach and public diplomacy, unlike any other.

Since January, we have hosted thousands of Irish students, officials, artists, business leaders, and other friends at our Phoenix Park residence. Our popular Creative Minds series continues to feature renowned American and Irish trailblazers who engage with Irish audiences on important topics, such as cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, trends in American politics, science, education, and innovation - all in an interactive 'salon' led by prominent Irish moderators. It's the hot ticket, and 2018 is shaping up to be even better.

The embassy is also promoting exchanges of people and ideas. Our team recently secured 7,000 new J-1 visa spots for 2018 for Ireland so Irish youth can benefit from this enriching experience, which serves as a virtual rite of passage. We encourage Irish students to apply early for these spots. We recently sent the latest group of Irish Fulbright scholars to the United States to pursue research projects at leading universities across the country, while welcoming their American counterparts here in Ireland.

Friends, please rest assured that the state of the bilateral relationship is strong. I witnessed first-hand the incredible goodwill extended to Ireland from the White House and Congress as Washington rolled out the red carpet for former taoiseach Enda Kenny during this year's St Patrick's Day meetings.

But we must never take this unique relationship for granted either. To that end, the embassy is on watch, working every day with the Irish Government, press, business leaders, civil society and others to nurture and grow our ties.

As President Trump said at last year's Shamrock ceremony: "As America gains renewed strength, Ireland will find us to be an ever-faithful partner and an always loyal friend." Hear, hear Mr President!

Happy Thanksgiving from the American people.

Sunday Independent

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