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Speech by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. on the occasion of the Speaker’s Friends of Ireland Luncheon US Capitol, 17 March 2023

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of Congress, esteemed friends and colleagues.  


Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for hosting this lunch today. 


It is a pleasure to be sat between the Speaker and the President – not to keep the peace, but to thank them for doing so much to protect peace on the island of Ireland.  


Congratulations Speaker McCarthy on your election to this great office and thank you for continuing the tradition of the Friends of Ireland Luncheon. Two years ago, you said in your St. Patrick’s Day message that on this day everyone is Irish – a sentiment that I think will find unanimous bipartisan support!  


Everyone in Ireland is proud that an Irish-American holds the speaker's gavel and we wish you the best in your term as Speaker and I look forward to working with you on areas of common interest.  


It was on St. Patrick’s Day in 1981 that President Ronald Reagan first spoke of the search for the ‘just and peaceful solution’ in Northern Ireland.   


Through successive Administrations and members of Congress, the United States played a central role in finding that solution.  


You made political interventions at pivotal moments, built relationships across parties and supported communities. And through your contribution to the International Fund for Ireland you encouraged dialogue and made peacebuilding possible.   


The IFI’s vital work continues today thanks in no small part to the advocacy of so many of you in this room. We are so grateful for that.   


As a nation, we will be forever grateful to the Friends of Ireland caucus for your commitment to Ireland, North and South.    

Mr Speaker, this year is the 40th anniversary of the first Friends of Ireland lunch, hosted by Speaker Tip O’Neill, and attended by President Ronald Reagan.   


Their shared vision of the role the US could play in promoting and securing peace helped achieve the impossible.   


Mr Speaker, this year is also the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. That landmark achievement was made possible because people chose to believe in the potential for peace and the promise of a better future.  


The efforts of the parties in Northern Ireland, and the Irish and British governments, would not have succeeded without your input and the steadfast support of our friends and partners here in the United States.    


A cycle of violence that had ravaged the island of Ireland for 30 years was finally broken.  History was made with a remarkable peace agreement, based on political leadership, vision, and compromise.   


Now we have to complete that work and fulfil the Agreement’s promise not just of peace but also reconciliation. Then build a shared island together.  


The people of Northern Ireland want to see their political Assembly and devolved government back up and running and their politicians working to improve their lives.   


So much has been achieved since 1998.  Today, new generations of young people are growing up with no memory of the conflict their parents endured. 


As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, when political violence was an everyday occurrence, that’s something to be grateful for.  

There are now incredible opportunities for economic development in Northern Ireland, especially with the potential of the Windsor Framework recently agreed between the EU and the UK.  


Our task now is to complete the mission and help the people of Northern Ireland build a more peaceful and prosperous future together.  


Mr. Speaker, today we must also remember how Russia is attempting to deny the people of Ukraine any kind of future through its brutal invasion.  


While Ireland is a militarily neutral country, we are not politically or morally neutral in the face of violations of international law and human rights.   


The past thirteen months have united all of us who believe in freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and in the UN Charter.  We stand with Ukraine because silence means surrender.  And we will not stay silent when liberty, freedom, and fundamental human rights are being attacked. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.       


We have seen too many times in history how this story ends if it is not challenged, how appeasement no matter how well intended ultimately fails, and so I welcome the ongoing close cooperation between Europe and the United States to defend our Ukrainian friends. In the last century, America led the free world in the fight against fascism and communism. In this century, America leads the free world again. Thank you.   


Mr. Speaker, symbols matter and occasions like today matter.  They reinforce the invisible bonds that connect people of different political backgrounds together and join our countries together.  

Our story is one of friendship and partnership and above all a belief in the promise of tomorrow.  


Thank you again, Mr. Speaker, and a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all.