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President Clinton's address at Courthouse Square, Dundalk. 12 December 2000

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Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Bill Clinton, President of the USA, address at Courthouse Square, Dundalk, Republic of Ireland. 12 December 2000

Thank you very much. First let me thank the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, for his leadership and his friendship and his kind and generous words tonight.

Mr. O'Hanrahan, thank you so much for the gift and your words. Joan McGuinness - it's not easy for someone who makes a living in private business to stand up and give a speech before a crowd this large. If you look all the way back there, there's a vast crowd. You can't see it in the dark, but all the way back here there are just as many people. So I think we ought to give Joan McGuinness another hand for the speech she gave here.

I thank the government ministers, the members of the Congress, and other Americans who are here. I'd like to thank the musicians who came out to play for us tonight, and those who still will. You know, I like music, and so I have to say it may be cold and dark, but I'm back in Ireland, so, in the words of U2, it's a beautiful day.

And I am particularly glad to be here in Dundalk, the ancient home of Cuchalainn. I want to acknowledge some natives of Dundalk who are among our group here - the Taoiseach's spokesman, Joe Lennon; the White House correspondent for the Irish Times Joe Carroll; a member of our American embassy team in Dublin Eva Burkury, who has been taking late-night calls from us all week to make sure we do the right things in her home town.

Let me also say that for Hillary, Chelsea and me, it's great to be in the home town of the Corrs. Now, we had the privilege of being with them and hearing them sing in Washington just Sunday night. They did you proud. I understand their success has been great for your community, except that in this tight labor market, you haven't been able to replace them down at McManus's Pub.

In a few weeks, I'll have a little free time. You know, I feel at home here. And so, even though I can't claim to have a granny buried in Castletown, I hope you won't call me a blow-in. In America, over 40 million of us claim Irish roots. And the number keeps going up every year. I'm not sure whether that's because so many millions are green with Irish ancestry or just green with envy of Ireland.

There are so many reasons to admire Ireland - the beauty of the land, the people, the music, the dance, the movies, the golf, the literature. You know, according - Americans in the audience will understand this - according to the latest manual count you have won approximately 66 times the number of Nobel Prizes in literature you would be entitled to, based on your percentage of the world population. In so many ways, you have had an impact far beyond your numbers - especially in your worldwide reputation for compassion and taking on humanitarian causes.

And then there is your amazing Irish economy. Today, we're seeing your economy reaching out across the ocean to us in the United States, with Irish technology firms in Boston, New York and Atlanta.

And I want to note, because we're here in County Louth, that the man famous for the ideas behind this prosperity grew up just a short distance from here, in Drogheda - or Drogheda. Anybody here from Drogheda? I told them to put you in the front row.

Listen to this: In a major report in the late 1950s, T.K. Whittaker wrote, "Sooner or later, protectionism will have to go, and the challenge of free trade accepted, if Ireland wishes to keep pace with the rest of Europe." Well, over the last six years, Ireland has outpaced the rest of Europe. Indeed, you have turned deficit to surplus, slashed debt, seen employment grow four times the rate of Europe, and seen your economy grow faster than any other nation in the entire industrialized world.

Earlier this year, as the Taoiseach said today, Ireland was selected by our distinguished Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the European location for its Media-lab research center. The director said he did this because - I love this - because of Ireland's anti-establishment attitude to innovation. The Wall Street Journal says, Ireland enjoys one of the freest economies in the world, and one of the most responsive governments.

With the strong leadership of Prime Minister Ahern as the government, computer science graduates in Ireland have jumped fourfold in just the last four years. Now Microsoft, Intel, Nortel, IBM, Oracle, Lotus, Xerox and Heinz and so many others are in Ireland. And Ireland has now displaced the United States as the number one software exporting country in the entire world. But you enjoyed respect in the world long before this boom, because Ireland has been exporting compassion a lot longer than software.

Probably the saints in heaven don't spend too much time boasting of their achievements. But if they do, I suspect the saints can bare no more bragging from St. Patrick. For no nation has ever lived up more fully to the virtues of its patron saint than Ireland.

Some years ago, when your then President, Mary Robinson, paid a visit to America, she told of a kindness Ireland received and never forgot. During the Potato Famine, the Chalktaw Indians in the United States - who, themselves, were very poor and displaced from their own land - collected from among themselves $147 and sent it to Ireland to help ease the suffering. One hundred and fifty years later, the President of Ireland remembered that kindness on the South Lawn of the White House, because it so closely mirrors your own compassion.

To know suffering and reach out to others in suffering is woven into the heart of Ireland. And in your rising prosperity, you have not forgotten what it is to be poor. So you continue to reach out to the dispossessed around the world. In your newfound peace you have not forgotten what it is to be at war, so you continue to stand guard for peace around the world. That is a powerful reason that I am very glad Ireland is now on the United Nations Security Council.

You might be interested to know - and you may not - that Ireland is so well thought of around that world that when the campaign was on for the Security Council members, you found help in surprising places. Your Ambassador to Australia, Dick O'Brien, visited 14 countries in the South Pacific, seeking their votes. In the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, he was met by a local journalist by the name of O'Brien. He learned then that the Prime Minister of Tuvalu's mother's name was O'Brien. Turns out, there was an Irish sailor in the 19th century shipwrecked on Tuvalu, named O'Brien.

He liked it there, stayed on, and now, a full quarter of the population are O'Briens. If the math is right, maybe there are more than 45 million Irish Americans. We are delighted to have you as our partner on the Security Council. But as we look to Ireland and to America, we remember that for all our efforts to heal the world, sometimes the toughest healing problems are right at home.

The story of the United States, I believe, is largely about three things: love of liberty, belief in progress, struggle for community. The last has given us the most trouble, and troubles us still. Matters aren't so different for Ireland. For hundreds of years, and intensely for the last 30, you confronted the challenge of religious difference. You in Dundalk know what it's like to face fear and isolation - with unemployment rising, the economy stalling and hope failing.

A young businessman once said, now, money isn't everything, but it's up there with oxygen. We know violence suffocates opportunity. We know in the end, there can be no full justice without jobs. Fortunately, the Irish had the courage to grasp the chance for peace and the new beginning.

Those who argued for peace promised a better life. But then, there was no proof. Today, you are the proof of the fruits and wisdom of peace. The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is now more a bridge than a barrier. Newry, just across that border, is your sister city and economic partner.

Some fear the change won't last; but some of the smartest business people in the world are already betting that it will last. You have a cluster of information technology companies and broadband networks. Here in this community, Xerox is making the second-largest American investment in all of Ireland, and your Institute of Technology is building classes to meet the growing needs of technology-based employers.

I appreciated Prime Minster Ahern mentioning the late Secretary Ron Brown and his trip here in 1994. When he came back, he encouraged us to continue investing in Dundalk through the International Fund for Ireland. I'm very glad we did. I know you haven't solved every problem, but this is now a boomtown. It's a new day in Dundalk, and a new day in Ireland.

My friends, I come here near the end of my eight years of service as President of the United States to ask you to protect this progress, to cherish it, and to build on it. As Pope John Paul said in Drogheda more than 20 years ago, violence only delays the day of justice. The Bible says, there are many parts, but one body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. It takes some people a long, long time to fully grasp that. But life teaches us over and over and over again that in the end, you cannot win by making your neighbor lose.

Unionists and Nationalists, native-born Irish and immigrants, to all of you, I say again, you cannot win by making your neighbor lose. Two years ago, after the horrid bombing in Omagh, you good people filled these streets. Young people came, not wanting to lose their dreams. Older people came because they wanted a chance to live in peace before they rest in peace. You stared violence in the face and said, no more. You stood up for peace then, and I ask you, stand up for peace today, tomorrow and the rest of your lives.

Ohm yes, there are still a few hills to climb on the road ahead; the Taoiseach mentioned them. But the people of Ireland have two advantages now. You now know the value of peace; and in the hard moments, you can also still draw strength from the inspiration of your poets. Seamus Heaney once said of William Butler Yeats, "His intent was to clear a space in the mind and in the world for the miraculous." Seamus was born the year Yeats died, and has spent his own life clearing that space, following this instruction to himself: "Walk on air against your better judgment."

As extraordinary as Ireland's efforts are in exporting peace and peacekeepers to troubled areas all around the world, I can tell you nothing - nothing - will compare to the gift Ireland gives the world if you make peace here permanent. You can give people all over the world desperately needed hope and proof that peace can prevail; that the past is history, not destiny. That is what I came to ask you to redouble your efforts to do.

Every St. Patrick's Day, the Taoiseach comes to the United States and we have a ceremony in the White House. We sing Irish songs, tell Irish stories - everything we say is strictly true, of course. In my very first St. Patrick's Day occasion as President, I said I would be a friend of Ireland not just on St. Patrick's Day, but every day. I have tried to be as good as my word. And every effort has been an honor and a gift.

Your kindness to me has brought life to Yeats' wonderful lines, "think where a man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was, I had such friends." And so, my friends, as I prepare to leave my office, a large part of my heart will always be in Ireland, for all the days of my life. And let me say, I will pray: May the road of peace rise up to meet you. May the wind of prosperity be always at your back. And may the God of St. Patrick hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Thank you, and God bless you.

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