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    Emigration prominent in Ahern’s speech to Congress

    By Noreen Bowden | April 30, 2008

    Bertie Ahern spoke movingly of the bond created by past generations of immigrants to the US in his historic speech to the joint session of the US Congress today. Ireland’s immigrant legacy in the US figured prominently in his speech, and he did not leave out a request for the US to resolve the plight of the Irish undocumented – a request that was applauded by his audience.

    The Taoiseach said:

    Whenever we have asked for help, America has always been there for us – a friend in good times and in bad.

    From the very outset, Ireland gave to America presidents, patriots and productive citizens of a new nation.

    Beginning with the Scots-Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries, they came from all corners of our island and from all creeds.

    The Irish helped to build America.

    The very bricks and stones in this unique building were quarried and carried by the hands of Irish immigrant labourers.

    A sculptor of Scots-Irish Descent, Thomas Crawford, created the figure of Freedom, the statue later raised to the top of this famous dome here on Capitol Hill.

    It reminds us all of the shared values of democracy and freedom which inspired both our journeys towards independence – the values that shine as a beacon of light and that stand strong as a city upon the hill among all the nations of the earth.

    That statue also tells our Irish immigrant story – a story which is an indelible part of America’s own story of immigration, of struggle and of success.

    The great waves of Irish immigration in the 19th century carried millions to your shores in flight from famine and despair.  They carried little with them as they arrived on these shores, except a determination to work hard and to succeed.

    In the words of the poet Eavan Boland, that eloquent voice of Ireland and America, they had

    “ Their hardships parcelled in them.
    Patience.  Fortitude.
    Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World.
    And all the old songs.
    And nothing to lose. ?

    To them, and the legions of others who came before and after, America was more than a destination.

    It was a destiny.

    We see that same spirit in the New Irish at home today – the many people from beyond our shores who are now making new lives in Ireland.  They too had the courage to come to a foreign place, to find their way and to provide for themselves, for their children and, in many cases, for their families far away.

    The New Ireland – once a place so many left – is now a place to which so many come.  These newcomers to our society have enriched the texture of our land and of our lives.

    We are working, as are you, to welcome those who contribute to our society as they lift up their own lives, while we also address the inevitable implications for our society, our culture, our community and our way of life.

    So we are profoundly aware of those challenges as we ask you to consider the case of our undocumented Irish immigrant community in the United States today.  We hope you will be able to find a solution to their plight that would enable them to regularise their status and open to them a path to permanent residency.

    There is of course a wider issue for Congress to address.  And it is your definitive right to address it in line with the interests of the American people.

    I welcome the wise words of your President when he addressed you on the State of the Union earlier this year and said he hoped to find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally, to resolve a complicated issue in a way that upholds both America’s laws and her highest ideals.

    On this great issue of immigration to both our shores, let us resolve to make the fair and rational choices, the practical and decent decisions, so that in future people will look back and say:

    They chose well.

    They did what was right for their country.

    The Taoiseach is the sixth Irish leader to address a joint sitting of the US Congress. Another prominent theme of his speech was the issue of peace in Northern Ireland; Mr Ahern thanked the US for its role in the peace process.

    Irish-American publisher Niall O’Dowd welcomed the speech and said that it would be warmly welcomed by the Irish in America. He noted that work by the Irish government was continuing on the issue, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern is in the US was conducting meetings on the issue.

    He continues his US visit with a trip to Boston tomorrow, where he will deliver a speech at Harvard University.

    See the entire text of the speech at the website

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