March 17, 2008
PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, thank you for the welcome and honor which you've extended to our delegation, and to all the Irish guests, from North and from South, who are here at the White House this morning to mark St. Patrick's Day, Ireland's National Day. I'm very grateful, Mr. President, for the opportunity which we have just had to hold a very substantial and useful meeting with you in the Oval Office. We appreciate it, and we appreciate the amount of time that you've given to us.
Exactly 10 years ago I paid my first visit here as Taoiseach, just a month before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, in April of 1998. As you know, that accord was truly a defining moment in the history of our island, and one in which the United States paid a remarkable and vital role. However, as Senator George Mitchell recognized at the time, much work remained ahead.
In March of 2001, Mr. President, you and I held our first meeting here together, and on that day you pledged the full support of the United States for the peace process in Ireland. Since that time, in the course of your presidency, you've appointed three envoys to Northern Ireland -- Richard Haass, Mitchell Reiss, Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky -- all of whom have contributed so positively to addressing the many challenges that we've had to face. And on so many occasions over the years, I wondered whether we could one day return here with news of a process completed, of success finally achieved.
This morning, Mr. President, we are all glad to say, and enormously pleased and proud to stand here and say that we've achieved peace in Ireland. It's a peace that I firmly believe will endure to future generations.
Your personal role, President, in the process and in the precious achievement is deeply appreciated by all of us, as is the commitment and support of our friends in previous administrations and Capitol Hill, and of our Irish-American community.
Today is a day when we say thank you to the great country for all that you've done, and you continue to do, for Ireland. On St. Patrick's Day, 2008, we enjoy in Ireland peace, partnership, and rising prosperity. And it is, President, the first time that anybody has been able to say that in the history of our country. So, for all of that, we thank you. (Applause.)
Bringing us to this glad and historic point in Irish history has demanded vision and courage. At this time of unprecedented optimism and promise in Ireland, I want especially to acknowledge the leadership of First Minister Ian Paisley, Deputy First Minister Mark McGuinness, and our colleagues in the New Executive in Northern Ireland. I'm grateful to you, Mr. President, for reaching out to the New Executive, and for so warmly welcoming the First and Deputy First Ministers to Washington in December, last. This was a timely signal of support and encouragement, which meant a great deal to them and everybody on the island of Ireland.
I hope that Ireland can now begin to share the lessons of our peace efforts with others in the world who suffer the pain and loss of conflict and division. I'm pleased to be able to say that the New Executive and my government enjoy a close and productive partnership. We're determined to serve all the people of Ireland, and to ensure that everyone can enjoy rising and sustained prosperity.
We look forward with great hope to the Economic Investment Conference in Northern Ireland in May. And your support, President, given at the press briefing this morning, for this important initiative is greatly appreciated. It forms a vital part of the consolidation of today's peace and stability on the island of Ireland.
We also look forward to seeing the devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Executive, as agreed at St. Andrew's. This will be the last piece of the jigsaw that will give us a durable peace and prosperity that we've been working for, for all of these years.
This year, Mr. President, we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of James Hoban, one of Ireland's most famous immigrant sons. I know that date was honored here just a few days ago. We take pride in the life and legacy of James Hoban, embodied in this famous building. He was a man with a vision and perseverance, who not only built the White House, but returned to rebuild it after it was destroyed in 1914 -- or 1814. We take great pride also -- (laughter) -- 1914, 1915 and '16 are very special dates -- (laughter and applause.)
We take great pride, also, in the contribution of all our immigrants to the United States, and acknowledge, Mr. President, your efforts in recent times to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. It is our fervent wish that a resolution will be found as soon as possible to the plight of those in our community here who cannot fully enjoy the freedom and promise of this great nation.
The relationship between Ireland and the United States is as strong and as close as it is rooted and proud. It is often been described as unique. In a world of change, where little remains constant, I believe that the United States and Ireland will always enjoy an indelible bond, shaped by the legacy of countless immigrants, who built and cherished our new home, but who never forgot the land of their ancestors. Our two countries remain committed to so many common causes, as we can, I believe, work closely on some of the most pressing challenges of our times -- many of which we discussed at length this morning.
Both of us, Mr. President, have recently had the opportunity to visit Africa. You've taken transforming the bold steps of the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, for which I commend you. Indeed, in doing so, I also remember the efforts of my famous Dublin colleagues made, Bono and Bob Geldof, both of who you know very well, and I know who you welcomed many times -- and it's cost you a lot of money, as well, by the way. (Laughter.) But their energy, in trying to help the world's poor. But the President has given huge world leadership in this, and, President, I have to acknowledge -- (applause.)
And that effort that the President has made, and that leadership which he's made has made a real difference to a very challenged continent.
Ireland, too, has been playing its part. We have tripled our overseas development aid over the past five years. We're well on our way to reaching U.N. targets. And hopefully for all of us, helping Africa is a vital area where Ireland the United States have so much in common, and where we can make a difference.
Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th anniversary will be celebrated soon, has inspired generations across America and in Europe. Mr. President, you said some time ago, and I quote that, "to understand the life and sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln is to understand the meaning and promise of America." And the promise of America is strong and enduring. And that promise has been Ireland's promise, too. It means so much today as ever before.
Over the generations, Ireland has given its people to America. In return America today has enabled so much to be accomplished in Ireland. I stand here today proud of our achievements at home, and very proud also of our friendship with the United States. Our two countries will always be special to one another.
And finally, Mr. President, can I thank you for your hospitality today and for treasuring the wonderful tradition that is St. Patrick's Day in the White House. I hope you will recall all of these days, and all of the hours and the time that you've given to us over the years with some fondness.
President, as we say good-bye on this occasion, but hopefully we'll keep in touch over the years, I will remember -- and I hope that everyone in Ireland will -- how kind, how favorable you've been, how really open you've been to helping us, and the amount of time that the President has given to us. We have to remember we're a small island; I lead a small country. But at no time in the last years, the last eight years, has the President other than but been available to us, been helpful to us, has been encouraging to us. And whenever we ask anything, he delivered for us.
And, President, I wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day. I thank you and Laura, I thank your family, I thank all your people here that we worked with for these last eight years, and say that you've been very kind to us. And I hope, into the future, Ireland will be able to continue to be very kind to you. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Taoiseach, thanks. Small island; huge impact on the United States of America. (Laughter.) Laura and I are glad you're here. We welcome you back to the White House on this St. Patrick's Day. I can't think of a better way to celebrate it than with the Taoiseach. Thanks for the bowl of shamrocks. As you said, this is the eighth time I had the honor of receiving this from you. And I want to thank you for your friendship -- your personal friendship -- and all you've done to strengthen the deep and lasting bond between our two nations.
Also proud to be here with John O'Donoghue, the Speaker of the D il. Welcome. Members of my Cabinet who are here, thank you for coming. Members of the United States Senate and the United States Congress who've joined us, we're glad you're here. And I know the Taoiseach is glad you're here, too. (Laughter.) He was asking me, are you in session? I said, no, they're out of town. He said, well, you must be feeling better about that. (Laughter.) We'll be having lunch with you soon.
How about members of the Fire Department of New York's Emerald Society -- I thank you for coming. (Applause.) They proudly carry the title, "New York's Bravest," and rightly so. (Applause.)
And finally, I will be introducing soon Ronan Tynan to entertain us a little bit. He is a wonderful representative of your country. He's a dear friend of the Bush family, and we're so thankful he is here with us today.
You know, Taoiseach, you were awfully diplomatic to talk about the fact that the architect came back to rebuild the White House -- (laughter) -- after 1814. What, of course, you didn't say was why the White House needed to be rebuilt -- (laughter) -- in the first place. (Laughter.) And so I'm proud to welcome the Ambassador from Great Britain, our dear friend -- (laughter and applause.) Thanks for coming.
I don't know if you know this, but America held its first St. Patrick's Day celebration in Boston in the year 1737. I don't think you were there, Congressman, but -- (laughter) -- but shortly thereafter. (Laughter.) Nearly 40 years later, in the midst of the Revolution, at least nine of the 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence were inked by Irish hands.
We've had a long relationship, Taoiseach. Our history has been one where the United States and Ireland have made liberty our common cause, and both of our nations are richer for it. Our partnership is based upon principles, and it's also based upon people. Ireland founded itself -- found itself in the grip of poverty and famine in the 19th century, and millions of Irish came here to our soil. They were drawn here by a promise that success would be attainable to all those who were willing to work hard. And that's certainly what happened.
It's an interesting poster that somebody brought to my attention that said this: "In the United States, an industrious youth may follow any occupation without being looked down upon, and he may rationally expect to raise himself in the world by his labor." You know, occasionally, people did look down, but not anymore -- because Irish have been unbelievably productive people for the United States of America. They made a huge contribution. They've become an essential thread in the American fabric.
And that's what we celebrate on St. Patrick's Day. Our countries are more than just partners, we are family, Taoiseach. And today more than 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. America is richer for every Murphy, Kelly, and O'Sullivan. I should have said McCain -- (laughter and applause.) Well, I just did. (Laughter.) After all, this history together, the United States and the Republic of Ireland continue to stand side by side in firm friendship. We were friends in the past, we're friends today, and, Taoiseach, I am confident, after my time in office, the next President will be friends with Ireland. We are cooperating to build prosperous economies and vibrant trade and sound investment between our countries.
I want to congratulate the Taoiseach. He was very generous in his praise about America's role, previous administration's role, hopefully our role in helping Northern Ireland have a peaceful future. But, Taoiseach, the truth of the matter is, I said on TV in there, that you've had a steady hand, and you've been supportive. And I do want to applaud those who are here who've shown great courage, who've been able to put together -- put beside -- behind them a terrible past, and focused on a hopeful future. And it was my huge honor, Martin, to welcome you and Dr. Paisley to the Oval Office. It was an historic moment for me, personally. And it was really, really positive.
But I came away with the impression that obviously the United States needs to help, and we will. But nothing will happen without clear conviction and determination by the folks who live in Northern Ireland. And there's more work to be done. Taoiseach; as you said, the devolution of policing is important, and we support that. But we can also help by sending a clear signal that we're interested in investment opportunities. And so the Northern Ireland Investment Conference in May will be held. And I want to repeat what I told the Taoiseach, is that we will send a high-level delegation to not only send a signal that we support the efforts of the folks in Northern Ireland, but we expect our folks to be able to find good investment opportunities -- for the good of both.
And so, Taoiseach, I, like you, marvel at the success that's taken place since my short time as President, and know full well that more progress can, and will, be made.
You know, there's an old Irish proverb that says, "There is no strength without unity." And so on this St. Patrick's Day, we can all take pride in the way that the United States and Ireland have come together to enrich each other in the world.
My last time as President to have a St. Patrick's Day with you, Taoiseach. Perhaps when we join the ex-leaders club, we'll sit back and put our feet up -- (laughter) -- and talk about the good old times. In the meantime, I know you're going to sprint to the finish, as am I, for the good of our countries.
Thank you for coming. God bless the people of Ireland and the United States. And now I welcome Ronan Tynan.
END 11:59 A.M. EDT