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Speech by Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D.

White House St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Ceremony and Reception

18th March 2024 - Leo Varadkar, TD

Mr. President, Senators, Representatives, Deputies, MLAs, Ladies and Gentlemen. Dear Friends. A Chairde.


Before I start, I wanted to acknowledge two special guests who flew here today. They are Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures. They have made us very proud by winning four Oscars. 


Thank you both so much for the encouragement you give to other artists. It’s great to have you here today.  


Nearly 250 years ago, Irishmen fought as part of your independence struggle. Exactly 100 years ago, the United States became the first country to formally recognise the newly independent Irish State and establish diplomatic relations.  


The exchange of ambassadors recognised the sacred promise that had been made between our peoples, forged over centuries, and reflecting the powerful bond between our countries.


This week, meeting so many proud Irish-Americans, I have been thinking a lot about sacred promises.


I have been thinking, in particular, of the words of one courageous Irish-American, a lawyer and decorated war hero, who spoke so eloquently about ‘the sacred promises’ we make as leaders.  


To quote his words, it is about, ‘the promises we make to our children, who deserve a chance to succeed.’  The promises we make to each other.  The sacred promise to work for a better future for all.  Those were the words of Beau Biden.


When we are elected to office, we each make a sacred promise.  To our communities, our party, our country, to ourselves.  And we dedicate ourselves to honour it, not always succeeding, but always doing our best no matter how challenging the circumstances.


President Biden, one of your country’s most sacred promises is to defend the principles of democracy and freedom against tyranny and oppression.  When Ukraine was invaded you honoured that promise and stood firm against an adversary who tore up the rule book of international law and repudiated our sacred humanity.  


So on behalf of Ireland and the European community, we commend you for your leadership and reaffirm that we in Europe stand with you and with Ukraine for as long as it takes.  


The battlelines are 5,000 miles away.  But if Ukraine loses, Putin will soon threaten others closer to home.  Dictators cannot be appeased. Dictators can only be defeated. Liberty must prevail.


This evening, in this White House, I am also reminded by the words of another great Irish-American, President John F. Kennedy, who spoke to the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament, in the final months of his life.


President Kennedy issued a challenge to the Irish nation to be, ‘the protector of the weak and of the small’.  When somebody dies before their time, as he did, their words can assume a kind of prophecy, a sort of sacred promise to the future.


As a country, we have tried to live up to the mission he set for us when he predicted that one day we would do something to give to the world, ‘a future of peace with freedom’.


These words resonate even more strongly today.  And tonight, let us all reflect on the words of President Kennedy when he urged us to do the ‘most important work of peace’ in protecting the weak and small, as he said in the Irish Parliament: ‘from Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip’.  


President Biden, when we met on Friday we spoke of our shared hope for Israeli and Palestinian States living side-by-side in peace and security.  


And I have always believed that America is a force for good in the world.  You have helped to advance liberty and democracy around the globe.


You saved Europe and the world from fascism in the 1940s and from communism after that.  You stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Bosnia and helped bring peace to Ireland and unification to Germany.  Today, you stand with us in our fight to save democracy and freedom in Ukraine.


Mr. President, as you know, the Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that’s unfolding before our eyes in Gaza.  When I travel the world, leaders often ask me why the Irish have so much empathy for the Palestinian people.  The answer is simple: we see our history in their eyes.  A story of displacement and dispossession, a national identity questioned and denied, forced emigration, discrimination, and now – hunger. 


So we support your work, and that of your administration, to secure a humanitarian ceasefire and to create the space for lasting peace.


The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter. Most especially they need the bombs to stop. This has to stop. On both sides. The hostages brought home. And humanitarian relief allowed in.


Israel must reverse its precipitous decision to authorise a land incursion into Rafah.


And after 100 years of violence, as you said, the only secure future lies in two states peaceful and sovereign, side by side.


Ireland stands ready to recognise a Palestinian state with like-minded partners when it is most helpful for peace.


Mr. President, we also see Israel’s history reflected in our eyes.  A diaspora whose heart never left home no matter how many generations passed.  A nation state that was reborn.  And a language revived. 


I believe it is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine and I believe you do too.


Because the life of a Palestinian child is equal to that of an Israeli one.


And the aspiration of the Palestinian people to have a homeland, and a fully-fledged State, in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel’s.


I also believe there are lessons that can be drawn from our own peace process in Ireland.  Particularly the concept of parity of esteem and the totality of relationships.


And also the crucial role of America, which provided a chairman for our peace talks, Senator George Mitchell. There was a permanent secretariat and America provided the confidence and oversight.


Mr. President, as you know today we are joined here in the White House by Michelle O’Neill as First Minister of Northern Ireland and Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. A joint office in which they are co-equal. Two courageous women demonstrating every day what’s possible by putting aside old animosities and working together. The Good Friday Agreement is working again and I thank you all so much for making that possible. 


I think they have got off to a great start. The Irish Government is working with them and the Executive in Belfast to build on the peace and prosperity that has been achieved in the last 26 years and to make sure it is shared by all. 


Thank you Mr. President for your ongoing interest in Ireland and Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. We’ve known each other for many years, met on many occasions, and your only ask has ever been – how can I help.


Thank you, Mr. President for the warm welcome you have extended to me, and the enormous amount of time you have given to me and my delegation on this very special occasion.


Go raibh míle maith agat, táimid bródúil go bhfuil tusa, Éireannach, sa Teach Bán. Ádh mór leat agus beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir.

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