I’m absolutely delighted to be here today at the 2010 Biennial National Conference of the AOH and the LAOH. I want to thank your National President and our good friend Seamus Boyle for inviting me here. Our Consul General in Chicago will also be with you during these days. I would like also to salute and acknowledge the presence of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Despite its long history and early beginnings, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is an integral part of Irish America. Although the challenges we face are new and ever changing, the Order has an importance today just as it had 174 years ago. The roots of this organisation can be traced back to some of the darkest hours in Irish history – A time when freedom was more an idea than a reality. Today our country is at peace and our fortunes greatly improved, but the work of this Order goes on, particular on this side of the Atlantic.
We salute you for your commitment and support of Ireland. I particularly applaud the solidarity of the AOH with the Bloody Sunday families. You have long supported the families and survivors of Bloody Sunday and rightfully share in their joy that those who died and were injured were innocent. The Saville Report on 15 June makes clear that the shootings by the British Army that day were “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Thus, for the families and after 38 years, the gaping wound of the injustice wrought by the Widgery Report was healed.
AOH involvement in education programs to ensure a greater appreciation of Ireland’s National heritage is a welcome priority. I was delighted to present at the awards last year at the National History Day.
The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of the precious peace that Ireland enjoys today. Its great strength derives from its endorsement by the people North and South. The recent election results in Northern Ireland were a ringing endorsement for those wanting to work together in the devolved institutions for the benefit of all the people. We now have a unique opportunity to build sustained peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland. Today, Northern Ireland enjoys partnership Government and the various institutional structures of the Agreement are all in effect.
There has been a transformation of relations on the island of Ireland and also between Britain and Ireland. The Taoiseach met with Prime Minister Cameron on 23 June at which the PM confirmed that the British Government was fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement. Just last Monday there was a meeting in Dublin of the North South Ministerial Council chaired by the Taoiseach and the First and deputy First Minister. The Council is a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement architecture and provides the forum for Ministerial colleagues from North and South to address the key issues of the moment. And on Monday obviously the economic challenges that we all face were centre stage.
The devolution of Policing and Justice earlier this year marks an important milestone in fulfilling the full vision of the Good Friday Agreement. Ten years on from the Patten Report the responsibility and authority for policing and justice are now where they ought to be – at local level, accountable to and operating for the benefit of all the community.
There remain those who refuse to accept the will of the people. We deplore the acts of these dissidents and we are committed North and South to defeating them. The work of reconciliation is a generational task. I welcome the ongoing support of the U.S. in helping us to underpin peace in Ireland, including through the International Fund for Ireland.
It will come as no surprise to many of you that Ireland has challenges of its own right now. Ireland, like most countries, has gone through a period of economic turbulence. However, the Government has taken the hard decisions necessary to deal with the effects of the global economic and financial crisis by stabilising our public finances, repairing our banking system and cutting costs to boost competitiveness. We are pursuing a detailed and well-planned strategy to ensure our economic recovery into the future. It is evident that we are living through tough and difficult times, but we are meeting challenges head on and we will emerge stronger than before. The U.S. is a key economic partner and foreign direct investment from here is vital to our economy. But our economic relationship is also now a two way one reflecting the increasing investment by Irish companies in the U.S. The Farmleigh Global Irish Economic Forum last September was an important initiative of the Irish Government to engage with our global family in a new and modern way. It has proven to be very successful. We have also been engaged in a strategic review of our relationship and last year published the result of that review entitled “Ireland and America – Challenges and Opportunities in a new context”.
We say this is the year to come home to Ireland. Tourism from the U.S. is very important to us. I welcome the comments made by President Obama last Thursday in which he called for renewed efforts in establishing comprehensive immigration reform. The President stated it was time to “squarely confront our challenges with honesty and determination”. I would like to acknowledge the work and support of the AOH in this area. It is very important for our undocumented that this issue is resolved. It is also important for us that we secure future flows through what we call the E3 programme.
I want to thank the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their work and their friendship. In you we have a formidable partner, and with you at our side we know that Ireland, and its people, will continue to flourish both at home and abroad.