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Speech delivered by
Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence at the
John F Kennedy Summer School
on
Friday, 7th September 2012


Ambassador Rooney, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to have this opportunity to address you at this Gala Dinner to mark the inaugural John F Kennedy Summer School. I want to congratulate the organisers of this important event and all of those associated with it. It is, I understand, a “curtain raiser” or trial run for the 50
th anniversary next year of JFK’s historic visit to Ireland in 1963 and I understand it is planned that this summer school becomes an annual event.

This event stimulated my revisiting many of the outstanding speeches of the late President Kennedy and, in particular, reports of his visit to Ireland in 1963, a visit which had an extraordinary impact on the entire country and which laid the foundations for the maturing of the relationship between Ireland and the United States. In becoming the first sitting American President to visit Ireland, President Kennedy, unknowingly at that time, set out a road map for the visits of future American Presidents and was the catalyst for all future Presidential and Vice Presidential election candidates to uncover long forgotten Irish roots and distant family relations, some of whom perhaps might have been better forgotten!

The relationship between Ireland and the United States is powerful and enduring and can, of course, be traced back over hundreds of years. President Kennedy on the 28
th June 1963, when addressing the Houses of the Oireachtas, acknowledged this when stating that “our two nations divided by distance, have been united by history”. Today our relationship is based on shared values, a myriad of individual family ties and friendships and a wide range of shared interests. The Irish Government has regular discussions on political and economic issues with our United States counterparts and, from an economic perspective, we enjoy a two way relationship which has resulted in the creation of jobs, not only in Ireland by US companies but also in the US by Irish companies. I understand that Irish companies employ approximately 120,000 workers in the United States which is quite an impressive number. The business community in the United States has seen and continues to see Ireland as a gateway to the European Union with a highly educated population, speaking the same language, and as a positive business environment. Here in Ireland, we have over 100,000 workers directly employed by US companies and an estimated further 70,000 in employment derived from the presence of American companies. The extraordinary connections between our two countries were on public display last weekend when an estimated 35,000 American citizens, the vast majority with ancestral connections to this country, came visiting for the Notre Dame versus Navy match. We look forward next year to an even greater influx of visitors to mark the iconic event of “The Gathering” during which time old friendships will be renewed and new friendships made.

In his stirring inaugural address on 20
th January 1961, President Kennedy stated “we observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom – symbolising an end as well as a beginning – signifying renewal as well as change.” Those themes, freedom, renewal and change are of particular relevance to all of us in this State today as we struggle and work to redress the economic catastrophe which has afflicted our country and detrimentally impacted on the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people. His address to the Houses of the Oireachtas on 28th June 1963, just five months prior to his assassination in Dallas, was substantially a celebration of Irish independence and the role then played by a free Ireland as a fully fledged member of the world community. In it he states that “a free Ireland will not be satisfied with anything less than liberty”. Today we have a country effectively still in receivership obligated to bring its public finances into order, financially dependent on others to fund essential services and unable to independently determine it’s own destiny, it’s own domestic policies and legislative priorities. We are in a constant state of consultation and negotiation to improve our circumstances and address crucial issues which affect the lives of our people. As a State and as a Government we are immersed in a 21st century struggle for self-determination and real, not illusory, equality amongst nations. We will not be satisfied with anything less than liberty. The Government, of which I am privileged to be a member, is united in its commitment to restore our domestic political independence whilst acknowledging that, in today’s world, there is global economic interdependence and that we have a continuing and crucial role to play as a State, in our membership of the European Union, in piloting not only this State but also the Union into a period of economic prosperity and real growth. We also attach enormous importance to the transatlantic partnership between the United States and Europe as a key element in addressing global economic issues. The transatlantic partnership is also of crucial importance in addressing the security challenges and threats with which we are confronted.

In his address to the Houses of the Oireachtas, President Kennedy referenced George Bernard Shaw who, speaking as an Irishman, summed up our approach to life. He said “I see things and say ‘Why’. But I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not’.” JFK continued “It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities”. Of course, we still have too many sceptics and cynics. In that context, it can truly be said -
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

It is not merely hope but confidence, commitment, rational analysis, imagination, determination, hard work, decision making and action that will facilitate our addressing the problems with which we are confronted today. I believe that we possess all of those qualities and that the enormous progress that has been made over the last 18 months is testimony to that truth. We are, as a State today, in a better place than we were 18 months ago and, whilst far too many of our people remain the casualties of the indefensible mistakes made during the Celtic Tiger years, there is real hope for the future. It is, however, unfortunate that the achievements of the past 18 months are only rarely acknowledged by the print and broadcast media. There is no shortage of the sceptics and cynics to whom JFK made reference nor of those who, despite the lessons that should have been learned, continue to throw political shapes by demanding that nothing changes and that existing expenditures in all public sectors be maintained and preferably increased. This is particularly extraordinary coming from some who bear direct responsibility for the policy failures that caused the difficulties we are now addressing. I believe it is time that these political flat-earthers looked around them, tuned into reality and had something constructive and not destructive to say.

I am conscious that, together with my political colleagues in Cabinet, there are enormously difficult decisions to be made in the coming months. €3.5 Billion is the budget correction to be effected in 2013. A broad range of new policy initiatives and legislative measures are to be implemented and I know that some have difficulties with change. It is understandable that people are more comfortable with what is familiar, albeit flawed, than something new. I again reiterate that the Cabinet is united in its determination to restore our domestic political independence and to meet our Troika commitments to enable this State move into a position whereby, as soon as is possible and fiscally wise, we fully return to the markets and cease to be dependent on the financial assistance that is presently so crucial. I am conscious that it is inevitable some decisions made will give rise to controversy and it is right, in our democracy, that we engage in vigorous discussion and debate and take account of constructive proposals made. It is also important, in order to achieve our objectives in the national interest, that not only members of Cabinet but also members of the Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties exercise their considered judgement when addressing issues, understand that what they say has both a domestic and international audience and may have unintended consequences and not succumb to targeted lobbying by vested interests on issues be they fiscal, economic, social or relating to foreign policy matters. One of the many important things I have learned in my many years in political life is the need for backbone.

As you all know Ireland has had a substantial engagement in peacekeeping in various troubled parts of the world in undertaking UN missions. In his address of 1963 to the Houses of the Oireachtas, President Kennedy referred to the role being played by Irish troops in the Congo. Today we have Irish troops engaged in UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. Ireland and the United States are members of a variety of international organisations such as the United Nations and the organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe which we currently chair. Whilst Ireland is not a member of NATO, we are a member of NATO’S Partnership for Peace Programme and, in my role as Minister for Defence, I am cognisant that the US and Ireland, as a member of the EU, have a role to play in addressing international threats to peace across the globe. In furtherance of developments in the area of defence and security, Ireland currently participates fully in all EU institutional arrangements of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, both military and civil. We are committed to remaining at the centre of the European debate on the role of the EU in the area of Common Security and Defence Policy and the role the EU can play in international affairs. There is much to be gained by tackling theses issues, in the context of our common values and overlapping interests, in a pragmatic manner in order to ensure economic stability and safety for future generations.

In his 1963 address to the Houses of the Oireachtas President Kennedy made reference to Ireland then pursuing “an independent course in foreign policy” but “not being neutral between tyranny and liberty” and then acknowledged that “Ireland’s influence in the UN is far greater” than it’s “relative size”. That influence has continued in the 49 years since JFK’s visit to Ireland and despite the economic and fiscal difficulties with which we are confronted we are committed to continuing to play a meaningful peace keeping role where appropriate. While the UN has played an important role over the decades in many parts of the world, a hope President Kennedy expressed with regard to the UN in his inaugural address of January 1961 has, unfortunately, not been fulfilled. He pledged at that time, with reference to the UN, the support of the United States “to prevent it becoming a forum for invective”. Unfortunately, with regard to some issues of difficulty, in practical terms the UN is little more than a forum for invective and all too frequently it is politically paralysed by the veto exercisable by the permanent members of the Security Council. In my view, there has been too much talk about reform of the structures of the United Nations and too little action.

In concluding I want to return to economic matters. In his inaugural address in January 1961, JFK said to his fellow Americans “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” During the Celtic Tiger years too much illusory wealth vested in too few, too many of whose sole objective was self aggrandisement, copper-fastened by a display of a sickening and overweening sense of self entitlement. They had no interest in or concern for what they could do for their country and too many of them still appear to have no remorse for the damage they have done to our country. It is crucial that we continue to focus on what we can do for our country to restore it to prosperity and to facilitate the creation of jobs for those currently unable to obtain employment. I want to acknowledge, most appropriately on this occasion, the fact that this is a particular focus of an extraordinary number of Irish Americans, whose friendship and commitment we greatly value. It is particularly appropriate this weekend that the John F Kennedy Summer School inauguration is taking place which is an important additional brick in the wall of our enduring connections and friendship.


Ends


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