The following op-ed appeared in the Irish Daily Mail on Friday, November 28, 2014.
In a heartfelt tribute, the new US Ambassador says America and Ireland can be grateful for their very special relationship
Yesterday was the great American holiday of Thanksgiving and as the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Ireland, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. After all, I have found the best job in the world. Every day since I have arrived in this beautiful country I marvel at the privilege I have been given by President Obama to represent my country in the land of my ancestors.
As a tradition, Thanksgiving goes back to the original European settlers in New England, but it was established in its modern form by two Presidents who served in harrowing times. Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday as our Civil War raged. Franklin Delano Roosevelt fixed its current date as the last Thursday in November as the world was overtaken by war in 1941. The authentic expression of Thanksgiving is simple, wise, and universal. It is a time to reflect, to put aside our frustrations for a moment, and to take the time to be thankful for so much of what is good in our lives.
So what am I thankful for as one of the millions of stewards of this remarkable U.S.-Irish relationship? On a personal level, I am thankful for my grandparents, who left Westport in County Mayo as economic emigrants almost a hundred years ago. They left with nothing but hope – and seven young children — and set up in Chicago. I am grateful my grandfather was able to find work and to support his growing family – with eight more children born in the U.S. I am grateful for my father who was unable to complete his own ambitions for education as the Great Depression and World War II changed everything for his generation. I am grateful for the education I was able to attain and a career in law. I am grateful for my country that allowed another lawyer named Barrack Obama to run for office. I am grateful for the chance to serve the US-Irish relationship in my new role and to meet so many amazing people in this wonderful country.
Even in the short time I have been here, I see that Ireland itself has much to be grateful for. The Irish economy is growing, and confidence is returning. This is due to the amazing Irish people whose resilience, courage, and wit have triumphed not only here in Ireland but all over the world. Forty million Americans claim Irish roots. I believe the full strength of that Irish diaspora network is yet to be felt. As a proud Irish American myself, I can say that the enduring sense of identity that characterizes the Irish will continue to create connections, whether they be of a cultural nature, or networks of commerce, information, science, and research.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, might I make a few observations on the accomplishments of the incredible U.S. – Irish partnership for which people on both sides of the Atlantic can be grateful? During the last years of economic hardship, what many might not have been noticed was that even at the darkest moments after the economic crash, when people were struggling with lost jobs and income, American companies were still investing in Ireland. In fact, over the five-year period starting in 2008 and ending in 2012, U.S. firms invested more capital in Ireland ($129.5 billion) than in the previous 58 years combined. We are seeing now the recovery springing from those investments in the sectors that will provide durable growth in the future – technology, bio- medical research, and science based industries. Those were investment decisions made by looking at solid business calculations. The faith of US companies in the long term Irish project was clear – and based on more than tax rates. And I know at least 165,000 of my countrymen are thankful for the Irish companies that provide them with a good job in the United States.
Today, employment is rising, growth is returning, and Ireland’s international reputation has been rehabilitated. As this year comes to a close, I believe 2014 will be seen as a pivotal moment for this country and that the relationship with the United States will be seen as key to that pivot.
We can also be grateful for the strong partnerships that have grown up around regional centers. At the beginning of this month I was able to make my first visits as U.S. Ambassador to Cork, Limerick, Shannon and Galway. I plan to continue to travel to all parts of Ireland and to look for ways to grow the connections between our two counties to encourage economic partnerships so that all parts of Ireland can benefit.
On a tour of Galway City, as I watched the water of the River Corrib coursing to the sea, I couldn’t help but think that Ireland has the chance to pioneer the use of this incredible source of ocean wave energy, just as it is doing pioneering work on smart grids and wind turbines. U.S. companies, researchers, and policy makers can learn from Irish progress in this crucial area of sustainable energy. Ireland can be proud of its innovative capabilities.
In so many sectors that I have seen in my first few weeks as Ambassador, I have been left inspired and optimistic about the contributions the Irish can make to solving the problems of the future. As I meet a broad range of Irish citizens, from farmers and small business owners to scientists, tech startup founders, teachers and local leaders, I think how much Ireland has to be thankful for — peace, stability, identity, community, incredible human talent, and a very healthy ambition.
We know that the U.S. and Ireland share bonds of kinship, culture and values, but we will need to be mindful and purposeful in keeping these connections growing into the next generation. Many of the young people I met had been to the United States already – some on the J1 Summer Work and Travel Program that sends 7000 university students each year to the US. This program is a huge investment in our future relationship and one I hope we can build on when those students return. What I heard from young people is that they very much see Ireland in the larger global context and they see their future in a country connected to Europe, the U.S., and beyond.
I met with many young people in Galway who were coming together as part of the Coder Dojo movement. The US Embassy is partnering with that free coding volunteer group to challenge young people to learn to code games – but also to tell the story of our ocean environment in a project called This is Not a Game Ocean Challenge. I was inspired to see mothers and fathers and huddled around their computers with their young children learning the language of coding. As Ireland becomes more and more of a tech hub, and with American companies flocking here, the country will need such skills. The support parents are giving to help their children get the advantage they will need is inspiring.
My priorities as Ambassador are to encourage the best in our relationship. I look forward to the opportunities a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now under negotiation, will create for small and medium sized businesses, both Irish and American, who can benefit from more open markets. I want to spread the word that the U.S. is open for business, and when Irish companies are ready to make the move to grow into the United States, that they know that they can get support from our Commerce Department’s Select USA program. I encourage more Irish students to study in the U.S. and more U.S. students to study in Ireland. I will continue our dialogue on global issues, ensuring that our good bilateral relationship helps to influence our international organizations in the right direction. Next year will be especially important, for example, for the UN Climate Change Conference to be held during 2015 in Paris.
On a personal level, I also want to enjoy my time here in Ireland – to travel to all corners of the island and to savor your food, music, art and culture. The O’Malleys are from Westport in County Mayo and I will visit there soon. My many cousins are planning a reunion next spring. Like many Irish American families our connections to Ireland have great personal meaning and making the trip back to my grandparents’ home helps to complete the circle that our ancestors started when they departed for a new life in America.
Thanksgiving is so special for Americans because we know, intimately, the immigrant’s story, and the sense of both loss and hope that it entails. Although the traditional Thanksgiving meal centers on a turkey, as in all things American, the meal is ours to create. My wife Dena and I have our own tradition of smoking our turkey on a grill. This year as we sat down to our meal, we made sure to raise a glass to my Irish grandparents – without their brave decision to forge new lives for themselves and their family I would not be resident in the Phoenix Park today.