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An Taoiseach's Speech to a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress Washington DC !!
Wednesday, 30th April 2008

Address by An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD to a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress Washington DC, April 30th, 2008

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, Members of Congress, Chairman and Past Chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Mr Neal and Mr Walsh, My Distinguished Predecessor as Taoiseach, Ambassador Bruton, Distinguished Guests

Thank you for your kind introduction.

Your invitation to address this Joint Meeting this morning honours mycountry 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 betweencountries. 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.

I know, Madam Speaker, like so many others assembled here, you share manylinks with Ireland and with County Wicklow in particular.

A famous son of Wicklow, the son also of an American mother, CharlesStewart Parnell, stood in this place 128 years ago, the first Irish leaderto do so.

Parnell turned to the United States, as have many Irish leaders since, aswe strove to emulate the achievements of America and to vindicate theprinciples 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 seekinghelp as Ireland struggled for her independence.

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

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

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

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

The Irish helped to build America.

The very bricks and stones in this unique building were quarried andcarried by the hands of Irish immigrant labourers.

A sculptor of Scots-Irish Descent, Thomas Crawford, created the figure ofFreedom, the statue later raised to the top of this famous dome here onCapitol Hill.

It reminds us all of the shared values of democracy and freedom whichinspired both our journeys towards independence - the values that shine asa beacon of light and that stand strong as a city upon the hill among allthe nations of the earth.

That statue also tells our Irish immigrant story - a story which is anindelible part of America's own story of immigration, of struggle and ofsuccess.

The great waves of Irish immigration in the 19th century carried millionsto your shores in flight from famine and despair. They carried little withthem as they arrived on these shores, except a determination to work hardand to succeed.

In the words of the poet Eavan Boland, that eloquent voice of Ireland andAmerica, they had

" Their hardships parcelled in them.Patience. Fortitude.Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World.And all the old songs.And nothing to lose. "

To them, and the legions of others who came before and after, America wasmore than a destination.

It was a destiny.

We see that same spirit in the New Irish at home today - the many peoplefrom beyond our shores who are now making new lives in Ireland. They toohad the courage to come to a foreign place, to find their way and toprovide for themselves, for their children and, in many cases, for theirfamilies far away.

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

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

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

There is of course a wider issue for Congress to address. And it is yourdefinitive right to address it in line with the interests of the Americanpeople.

I welcome the wise words of your President when he addressed you on theState of the Union earlier this year and said he hoped to find a sensibleand humane way to deal with people here illegally, to resolve a complicatedissue 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 tomake the fair and rational choices, the practical and decent decisions, sothat in future people will look back and say:

They chose well.

They did what was right for their country.

Madam Speaker,

For millions across the globe, the great symbol of the freedom and thewelcome of America is the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline.

The promise inscribed there says so much about this country:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Annie Moore was one of those who heard that promise.

She was a young Irish girl, aged only 15, from County Cork.

She was the first immigrant to pass through the Ellis Island ImmigrationStation when it was officially opened in 1892. She came here with herbrothers to make a new life in America. Her story is one among millions.

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

Their contribution is seen in much of the great literature, film, art andmusic 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.My friends,

On September 11, 2001, some of the most terrible, evil events in worldhistory occurred.

Close to Ellis Island, near this very building and in the skies and fieldsof 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 FireDepartment and the son of Irish immigrants from County Leitrim, rushed tothe World Trade Centre to help those who were in danger and to minister tothe injured and the dying.

Along with so many other good, innocent people, Father Mike died inside theTwin 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 amdeeply honoured to be joined here today by some of Father Mike's comradesfrom the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department.I honour them and all of their fallen comrades - those who fell on that dayand 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 ofour 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 onhumanity itself.

No words of mine then or now can adequately address such an immensetragedy.

But I could not come to this place today without pausing to reflect and toremember and honour those who died on that day.

Our hearts and prayers remain with their families.

Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam dílís go léir.

Madam Speaker,

The relationship between Ireland and the United States continues to growfrom strength to strength.

It proceeds from all that has gone before, but it also thrives on thechanges and new challenges we must face together.

In Ireland, we firmly believe our experience of hardship and of forcedemigration 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 others economies, bringing together ourentrepreneurial energy and creating employment across Ireland and acrossthe fifty states of 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.

Our relationship is also part of a broader relationship between Europe andAmerica.

The Atlantic Ocean will always bring Europe and America together.

I do not see the Atlantic as something that keeps America and Europe apart.

Ireland, as Europe's most westerly state with so many ties to the UnitedStates, is a bridge between Europe and America.

I ask you to consider what has been achieved in Europe in the past 50years.

We have put aside hostilities that led to countless wars over thecenturies, and to two world wars in the last century alone.

We have created a European Union of 27 democratic states, committed todemocracy, peace and freedom. We are committed to an open market and to asingle currency that benefits hundreds of millions of European citizens.

We all recall two great Irish-Americans - President Kennedy in 1963 andPresident Reagan in 1987 - standing at the Berlin Wall during the Cold Warand calling out for freedom in Germany and in Europe.

That call was heard, as freedom's call always will be.

Berlin is now at the heart of a united, democratic Germany.

On the 1st of May, 2004 in Dublin, ten new members formally joined theEuropean Union. Many of them were emerging from behind the Iron Curtainafter decades of oppression.

I remember the intensity of the emotions. For many of these countries,this was a moment that was unthinkable only a few years before.

Along with Berlin, the great cities of Prague, Budapest and Warsaw havejoined Dublin, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Vienna as capital citieswithin a free and democratic European Union.

The Union now stretches from the beautiful west coast of Ireland, where thelocals say that the next parish is America, to countries with aland-frontier with Russia and Ukraine.

I passionately believe in Europe and I passionately believe in the EuropeanUnion as a force for good in the world.

It is profoundly encouraging that we are seeing the members of the EuropeanUnion continuing to rise together as a force for development, forstability, for peace in the world.

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

My friends,

Between America and Europe there is contrast, but not contradiction.

Energised by a common framework of values and imbued by democraticprinciples, together we can and we shall be a beacon for economic progress,individual liberty and the dignity of all mankind.

Acting in partnership, there are few limits to the good we can do.

We are all citizens of the world.

We must therefore develop a true spirit of global citizenship.

This cannot and should not be an alternative to national pride andpatriotism, but rather a complement to it.

We should care for our planet as much as we care for our country.

We should champion peace, justice and human rights across the globe as wellas at home.

It is an affront to our civilisation that there are children, anywhere inthis world, who will die of hunger or of a curable disease.

In this year of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights, it angers us that some corners of the world remain hidden from thelight of the universal principles expressed so eloquently in that document.

Although a small country, Ireland has always sought to play a full part onthe international stage. We have consistently advocated acting inaccordance with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, human rightsand human dignity.

Ireland believes in multilateral institutions.

We believe in the United Nations.

We believe in the European Union.

And we believe in multilateral action.

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

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

Tragically, some have paid the ultimate price and they have given theirlives in that noble service.

Madam Speaker,

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

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

Eradicating poverty, starvation and disease, countering internationalterrorism and containing nuclear proliferation are not national butinternational issues.

They cannot be overcome except by countries working together.

In many ways, the modern world is a much better place.

But it remains a dangerous place.

The values we share are our strength and our protection.

Forty years ago, the threat of nuclear war hung over the world. Not leastthrough the wisdom of America's leaders at crucial moments, we no longerlive every day under that shadow. Ireland was at the forefront ofefforts at the time to agree the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Today, there are new possibilities for mass devastation. The need forconcerted international action to prevent the proliferation of nuclearweapons technology is no less urgent now than it has been in the past.

Madam Speaker,

In Ireland today, we are looking out from our own shores more than everbefore - no longer with thoughts of exile, but to be part of the world.

Connected to it, contributing to it, learning from it.

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

For us, famine and oppression are not tragedies that could only happenelsewhere.

They happened to us at a sad time in our history.

They happened to those who fled here and helped build America and to themany who did not survive that fateful journey across the ocean.

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

That is why Ireland is committed to reach the United Nations aid target by2012.

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

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

At this moment in our history, that common humanity is being tested inparts of the continent of Africa - in countries like Sudan and Chad, wherelives have been lost on a terrible scale, where countless families havebeen driven from their homes, where conflict threatens a whole region withchaos and destruction.

Today, Irish soldiers are in Chad as part of a United Nations-mandatedforce, led by an Irish officer, protecting hundreds of thousands ofrefugees fleeing from conflict in that country and in neighbouring Darfur.

America has shown the way in its commitment to healing the conflict inSudan and to Africa as a whole.

You have shown the way also in your enormous investment in the fightagainst HIV, AIDS and malaria.

And you have given huge support and leadership to the peace process in theMiddle East.

That terrible conflict has been a central challenge to the world, and acause of pain and suffering to the Israeli and Palestinian people, for fartoo long.

We must succeed in our collective international efforts to secure apeaceful future for the people of Israel and of Palestine.

Madam Speaker,

This year, in Ireland, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the GoodFriday 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 democracyâ" the ideals of liberty, of equality, of justice, of friendship and ofrespect for our fellow men and women.

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

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

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 theUnited States Congress were founded.

Their simple purpose was to seek a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland.

The statement, placed on the Congressional Record during a session chairedby 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, fromDublin to Derry, from Boston and New York to Chicago and San Franciscoshall 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 thefirst Irish leader to inform the United States Congress:

Ireland is at peace.

Madam Speaker,

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

To you, to your predecessors and to all of the American leaders from bothsides of the aisle who have travelled with us, we offer our heartfeltgratitude.

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

Beyond Washington, there are so many others, whether amongst the dedicatedleaders of Irish America, or in the smallest towns and communities acrossthis nation, who have supported us and who never gave up hope that asolution would be found and that peace would come.

We have all shared that journey together.

When we needed true champions of peace, when we needed true friends, whenwe 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 Doctor King's immortal phrase, that we would be ableto transform the jangling discords into a beautiful symphony ofbrotherhood.

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

We discovered that peace can be found without suspending your moraljudgement, without sacrificing your identity and without surrendering yourmost deeply-held political aspirations.

Today, as I stand before you in this great democratic assembly, I struggleto 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 yourpower 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 outbefore 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.

Madam Speaker,

There is, of course, no ending to history.

We will always have new problems, new challenges and new opportunities.We are seeing an ever-increasing range of new technological and scientificdevelopments, which are created and diffused at ever-greater speeds.

Our societies are increasingly diverse.

Side by side with great wealth and prosperity, we still see socialexclusion and poverty.

We endeavour to help families and communities ravaged by a minority whoengage 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, torecognise what they have given to help create our successful societies.

These are the challenges for modern Ireland, just as they are throughoutAmerica 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 ofrepresenting 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 bypoverty 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 thesovereign 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 abetter world".

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

Madam Speaker,

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

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

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

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

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

On the 6th of May, I will go to that famous field on the banks of the RiverBoyne in Ireland where, over three centuries ago, fierce and awful battlewas 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 struggleof power, of politics and of religion.

For centuries after, the two sides on that field remained apart andremained 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 ourhearts 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 fruitsof 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 - awoman who rose from the conflict-torn streets of Belfast to be elected ourHead 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 successorsteps forward to stand in my stead, I will stand silently at the simplegraves of the patriot dead who proclaimed Ireland's republic and who foughtfor Ireland's freedom at Easter 1916.

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

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

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equalopportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue thehappiness 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 payto those who have gone before and the greatest legacy that we can bequeathfor 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 newbeginnings.

Let us begin.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.


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