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American Ireland Fund 19th National Gala, National Building Museum, Washington DC ,

6th March 2011 - Enda Kenny

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.

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