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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Remarks by President Barack Obama at St. Patrick's Day Reception

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, welcome to the White House.  This does not sound like a shy crowd.  (Laughter.)

As you may have noticed, today is not, in fact, St. Patrick's Day.  (Laughter.)  We just wanted to prove that America considers Ireland a dear and steadfast friend every day of the year.  (Applause.)  Some of you may have noticed we even brought the cherry blossoms out early for our Irish and Northern Irish visitors.  And we will be sure to plant these beautiful shamrocks right away.

I want to welcome back my good friend, Taoiseach Kenny, his extraordinary wife, Fionnuala.  This has been our third working visit in just over a year, and each one has been better than the last.  I've had the pleasure to welcome back First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Northern Ireland, as well.

And, everyone, please welcome my new friends from Moneygall, my long-lost cousin, Henry.  (Applause.)  His mother, Mary, is here as well.  And my favorite pub keeper, Ollie Hayes, is here with his beautiful wife.  (Applause.)  He was interested in hiring Michelle -- (laughter) -- when she was pouring a pint.  I said, she's too busy -- maybe at the end of our second term.  (Applause.)

In return, I did take them out for a pint at the Dubliner here in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.  That’s right, I saw some of you there.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t take pictures.  And I've asked them to please say hello to everybody back home for me.  Now, while there are too many Irish Americans to acknowledge by name here tonight, I do want to thank Martin O'Malley and his band for rocking the White House for the evening.  It's said that the curse of the Irish, as the Governor must know, is not that they don’t know the words to a song -- it's that they know them all.  (Laughter.)

As you may know, I finally got to spend a day in Ireland with Michelle last May.  I visited my ancestral village of Moneygall, saw my great, great, great grandfather's house.  I had the distinct honor of addressing the Irish people from College Green in Dublin.  And when it comes to their famous reputation for hospitality and good cheer, the Irish outdid themselves.  Michelle and I received absolutely the warmest of welcomes, and I've been trying to return the favor as best I can.

There really was something magical about the whole day -- and I know that I'm not the only person who feels that way when they visit Ireland.  Even my most famously Irish American predecessor was surprised about how deeply Ireland affected him when he visited in his third year as President.  "It is strange," President Kennedy said on his last day in Ireland, "that so many years and so many generations pass, and still some of us who come on this trip could feel ourselves among neighbors, even though we are separated by generations, by time and by thousands of miles.”

I know most of you can relate to that.  I think anyone who’s had a chance to visit can relate.  And that’s why Jackie Kennedy later visited Ireland with her children and gave one of President Kennedy’s dog tags to his cousins in Dunganstown.  And that’s why I felt so at home when I visited Moneygall.

When my great, great, great, great, grandfather arrived in New York City after a voyage that began there, the St. Patrick’s Society in Brooklyn had just held its first annual banquet.  And a toast was made to family back home enduring what were impossibly difficult years:  “Though gloomy shadows, hang o’er thee now, as darkness is densest, even just before day, so thy gloom, truest Erin, may soon pass away.”

Because for all the remarkable things the Irish have done in the course of human history, keeping alive the flame of knowledge in dark ages, outlasting a great hunger, forging a peace that once seemed impossible, the green strands they have woven into America’s heart -- from their tiniest villages through our greatest cities -- is something truly unique on the world stage.

And these strands of affection will never fray, nor will they come undone.  While those times and the troubles of later generations were far graver than anything we could fathom today, many of our people are still fighting to get back on solid ground after several challenging years.

But we choose to rise to these times for the same reason we rose to those tougher times:  Because we are all proud peoples who share more than sprawling family trees.  We are peoples who share an unshakeable faith, an unbending commitment to our fellow man, and a resilient and audacious hope.  And that’s why I say of Ireland tonight what I said in Dublin last May, this little country that inspires the biggest things -- its best days are still ahead.

So I propose a toast to the Taoiseach and the people of Ireland.  Do I have any -- where’s my drink?  (Laughter.)  Here it is, here it is.  All right, here we go.  It’s only water but  -- (laughter) -- obviously, somebody didn’t prepare.  (Laughter.)

To quote your first President, Douglas Hyde:  “A word is more lasting than the riches of the world.”  Tonight, grateful for our shared past and hopeful for our common future, I give my word to you, Mr. Prime Minister, and to the people of Ireland:  As long as I am President, you will have a strong friend, a steadfast ally, and a faithful partner in the United States of America.

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Remarks by President Obama at Friends of Ireland Luncheon -- U.S. Capitol

(March 20, 2012)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Please.  Well, thank you, John.  Thank you, everybody.  I know we are all glad to welcome Taoiseach Kenny and his lovely wife back to Washington.  Technically, you may be aware, it is not St. Patrick’s Day.  (Laughter.)  Of course, technically, most Americans who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day are not Irish.  So it’s a wash.  (Laughter.)

I want to thank our top Irishman in the White house, Joe Biden, who is here, and Speaker Boehner, for being such a gracious host.  I want to welcome Ambassador Collins and Mrs. Collins; distinguished members of the House and the Senate; leaders from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain.  Thank you all for coming.

I always think about how every Taoiseach must leave this luncheon marveling at how cheerful and bipartisan Washington is.  (Applause.)  It's remarkable.  And that’s something worth aspiring to, even during an election year.

As John mentioned, this wonderful tradition began with Speaker Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.  And when I was getting ready this morning, I came across some advice that Tip gave to anybody who was making a St. Patrick’s Day speech.  As the story goes, Tip was once asked to deliver a speech to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Pennsylvania.  He figured the Irishmen would arrive early, perhaps have a few drinks, relax a little bit, and by the time he stood up to speak, they would applaud anything he said as long as he kept it short.

Then, as Tip was getting dressed, one of the -- his aides ran up to him, out of breath, and said he had just found out that no drinking was allowed before dinner -- only afterwards.  And Tip panicked a little bit.  He realized he had to prepare.  So he grabbed a few pages from "Famous Irishmen of America," underlined some passages, acted like he had planned it all along.  The speech went extraordinarily well, and afterwards, he was complimented on his thoroughness and studiousness in preparing for the speech.  So Tip’s lesson was:  Always know your audience, and don’t count on drinks getting you through the evening.  (Laughter.)

But Tip also taught us something else.  He taught us that even in the midst of partisanship and passion, true friendship can exist in this town.  Tip and President Reagan famously had fierce battles and genuine disagreements.  But after the work ended, the two men did their best to put partisanship aside.  According to Tip, President Reagan used to begin calls with, "Hello, Tip, is it after 6 o'clock?"  (Laughter.)  To which the Speaker would reply, "Absolutely, Mr. President."  And then they could enjoy each other's company.

For his part, the President said he always knew Tip was behind him, even if it was just at the State of the Union -- (laughter) -- whispering to the Vice President after every policy proposal, "Forget it."  (Laughter.)  "No way."  "Fat chance."  (Laughter.)  I can relate.  (Laughter.)

So it is no surprise that the two proud Irishmen came together to start this luncheon -- with the Speaker promising to cook some Boston corned beef, and the President offering to "polish up some new Irish jokes."  Later, our friend Ted Kennedy and others persuaded Taoiseach to join them.  And today, the only argument we have is over who has more green in their family tree.

For once, I have some bragging rights here.  Last spring, the Taoiseach and Mrs. Kenny hosted Michelle and I for a wonderful visit to Ireland.  And one of the highlights was a trip to the small village of Moneygall, where my great-great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side lived before he set sail for America.  I met my eighth cousin, Henry -- who has my ears, I might point out.  (Laughter.)  We had a pint of Guinness at the local pub.  And I got a chance to see firsthand the kind of hospitality that the bighearted people of Ireland have always been known for.

So today is about celebrating those people -- as well as the tens of millions of Americans who trace their heritage across the ocean to the Emerald Isle.  Never has a nation so small had such an enormous impact on another.  Never has anyone taught us more about the value of faith and friendship; about the capacity of the human spirit; about the simple truth that it’s harder to disagree when we recognize ourselves in each other -- which is easier to do when we’re all wearing green.

So to Taoiseach Kenny, I want to thank you and Fionnuala for joining us here today.  And I want to thank the people of Ireland for their friendship, now and always.  Cheers.  (Applause.)

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Kenny of Ireland after Bilateral Meeting at White House on Tuesday, March 20

From the White House Office of the Press Secretary

11:09 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it is my great pleasure to welcome once again Taoiseach, Mr. Kenny, who has done, I think, extraordinary work during a very difficult time.  Over the last several years, we've been able to strike up a friendship.  And you'll notice that even though technically it is not St. Patrick's Day, we like to prolong the party around here.  Technically, most of the Americans who celebrate St. Patrick's Day aren’t Irish anyway -- (laughter) -- so we shouldn’t go on technicalities.

I want to thank the Taoiseach, his lovely wife, and all of the people of Ireland for the extraordinary hospitality they showed Michelle and I when we had the chance to travel there recently.  It was a magical day.  It was too short, so I provided assurances that we will be returning.  But the warmth and the goodwill that was expressed towards us I think was really representative of the deep bonds that exist between the United States and Ireland -- bonds that are almost unique among two countries around the world.  And the impact, obviously, that Ireland and Irish American -- that Irish culture has had on the United States is almost unparalleled.

We have had a terrific discussion about a wide range of issues.  Obviously for both our countries, one of the biggest priorities is getting the economy moving in the right direction and putting our people back to work.  And the Taoiseach described to me the steps that they've taken to try to stabilize the banking system there, to get control of their budget, and to be in position to grow in the future.

And it is important that both the people of Ireland and the American people understand the extraordinary benefits of trade, commerce, and investment between our two countries.  We are, obviously, an extraordinary contributor to investment in Ireland, and that's something of great importance to the people of Ireland.  Conversely, Irish businesses invest and employ huge numbers of Americans as well.

And so we are continuing to identify and describe additional areas where we can strengthen those strong economic bonds.  And I expressed to the Taoiseach my confidence in not only his government's ability to get Ireland moving again, but also we consulted on the broader issue of how Europe can begin to grow again, which obviously has an impact on our economy.

I also had an opportunity to thank him for the continued exemplary efforts by the men and women in uniform in Ireland who contribute to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts all around the world, from Kosovo to Lebanon.  As I've said before, Ireland punches above its weight internationally, and has a long history rooted in its own experience of making sure that not only is peace a priority, but also that the human needs on issues like hunger are addressed.  And even in the midst of a relatively austere time, Ireland has continued to step up internationally, and we greatly appreciate that.
I'm pleased to see that progress continues to be made with respect to the agreement in Northern Ireland.  We discussed how the United States wants to continue to be supportive on that issue as well.

So, once again, Taoiseach, welcome.  We are always pleased to see you here.  And the expressions of affection that I experienced when I was in Ireland I'm sure you are experiencing in return while you are here, because the American people have just an extraordinary affinity and fondness for the Irish people. And we are looking forward to you having a very productive visit, and we look forward to going over to Capitol Hill where even when it's not St. Patrick's Day, everybody claims to have a little bit of Irish roots.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER KENNY:  Could I say, first of all, I want to thank the President and the First Lady for the accommodation that's been given.  It's always good to have a place to stay in Washington.  And it's a distinct honor to be allowed to stay at Blair House, but also to come here to the Oval Office and have this conversation this morning.

I'd just like to say that I've given the President a rundown on the decisions taken by my government in the last 12 months to stabilize our public finances and to put our own house in order, but also to play a part, clearly, in the European Union is so important in a global sense.  And from that point of view, I gave the President a rundown on the changes in the structure of banks, the decisions taken by government in relation to the public sector numbers, the forcing down of costs and therefore the increase in competitiveness, and to report to him signs of confidence returning to the Irish economy.  But we still have a very long way to go.  Otherwise we've had a good, solid start but clearly there are challenges ahead.

I also reported to the President that the conversation around the table of Europe in the last 10 months has shifted from one of being just austerity to being one of good budgetary discipline, but also where clearly the agenda for growth and jobs will now be central to every European Council meeting.

I gave the President an outline of my views in respect of the fiscal compact treaty, and how we expect the Irish people, in their pragmatism and understanding of what the future holds, to vote strongly in favor of the treaty, and that this represents a real insurance policy both for the country and for the next generation of children -- but also, not to allow any future government to run riot with the people's money as has happened in the past. 
We discussed the question of the development of the European economies, and how other countries are making efforts aligned with our own to have that as a central issue for the time ahead. We also discussed the trading links between the U.S. and Ireland. I pointed out to the President my interaction with the American Chamber of Commerce and the chief executives of multinationals in Ireland.  We discussed the question of the possibility of semesters, either way, for young people involved in innovation and research and education, which is so important in the context of what multinational companies are actually looking for.

As well as that, we discussed the issue of Syria, and I gave the President a rundown on the last discussions at the European Council meeting.  We also discussed the question of Iran and what the U.S. has said very clearly about this in the short time window that there is in that regard.

We referred to the possibility of an opportunity to travel again to Ireland, and the President has confirmed that in due course.  Obviously, he's got a little matter to attend to here in America between this and that.  But I just wanted to say to you that it's a reestablishment, if you like, and a redefining of the absolutely unique relationship that there is between Ireland and the United States.

I pointed out to President Obama since my visit here to Chicago, his home city, the extraordinary outpouring of enthusiasm and exuberance in the streets of Chicago on Saturday, and my visit to Notre Dame in South Bend, and the opportunities that we had in New York to meet with Irish American business, with American investment business, the Ireland Investment Day at the stock exchange.

And here in Washington for the past two days has been simply outstanding.  And it confirms my belief that the reputation of our country has been restored internationally, and that the unique relationship that we've always had with the United States for so many reasons is exceptionally strong.  And I told the President of the great work being done by Ambassador Rooney, but also that Ireland respects America for what it does, both in our own context, but also to keep the world a safer place for the hundreds of millions of people who look for real leadership in this regard.

I thank President Obama and his government and his First Lady for all they do for so many people around the world.  And as I say, it's a privilege to be here in the Oval Office to represent our country and have this opportunity -- on St. Patrick's Week.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.

11:19 A.M. EDT

President Obama Welcomes Irish Officials to the White House on Tuesday, March 20

Here is the press statement from White House Press Office on President Barack Obama's St. Patrick's Day activities on Tuesday, March 20, 2012:

"President Obama will welcome Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny of Ireland to the White House on Tuesday, March 20. The United States and Ireland share strong bilateral relations, deep cultural ties, and a commitment to positive change in the world.

"The President looks forward to commemorating his fourth St. Patrick's Day in the White House with the Taoiseach and Mrs. Kenny, and to reciprocating the warm hospitality the Irish people extended to the President and Mrs. Obama during their visit to the Emerald Isle in May 2011.

"On Tuesday, the President and the Vice President will meet with the Taoiseach and will attend a St. Patrick's Day lunch at the U.S. Capitol.  In the morning, the Vice President will host the Prime Minister at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast at the Naval Observatory.  In the evening, the President and the First Lady will host a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House.

"Also on the 20th, the President and the Vice President will greet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Northern Ireland at the White House and discuss their progress toward meeting their shared commitments to a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Northern Ireland."

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

President Obama's Statement on International Women's Day, March 8, 2012


"On International Women’s Day, the United States celebrates the many achievements and milestones in the ongoing struggle for gender equality around the world, and reaffirms our commitment to accelerating progress.  We are committed to a future in which our daughters and sons have equal opportunities to thrive, because when women succeed, communities and countries succeed. With this promise in mind, we are launching new initiatives on women’s political participation and economic empowerment, combating violence against women, promoting women’s roles and perspectives in conflict prevention and peace-building, and supporting the work of UN Women and other key partners.

"Experience shows that true democracy cannot be built without the full and equal participation of half our population. Women’s economic empowerment is essential for economic recovery and growth worldwide. Successful transitions in the Middle East and North Africa will depend on women’s ability to shape their countries’ futures. From Egypt to Yemen and beyond, over the last year we have seen women lead local and national efforts to protest corruption, demand accountability, and establish new institutions.

"The United States also recognizes the need to elevate the perspectives of particularly marginalized women worldwide, including refugees and displaced persons, ethnic and religious minorities and women with disabilities. On this day, and every day, we stand with the women and men who bravely champion dignity, freedom, and opportunity for all."

- Barack Obama

O'Bama St. Patrick's Day Dance Party in Boston on March 15

Supporters of President Barack Obama and his reelection campaign are getting together for an O'Bama St. Patrick's Day Dance Party at The North Star at 222 Friend Street in Boston's West End on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

The party is being organized by Gen 44, the official under-40 fundraising program of Obama for America reelection campaign.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

President Obama Declares March 2012 as Irish-American Heritage Month

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Enda Kenny, 2011 
For centuries, America and Ireland have built a proud and enduring partnership cemented by mutual values and a common history. Generations of Irish have crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of prosperity, and today nearly 40 million of their proud descendants continue to make their indelible mark on the United States of America. Their stories, as varied as our Nation's people, humble us and inspire our children to reach for the opportunities dreamed about by our forebears.

Over hundreds of years, Irish men, women, and children left the homes of their ancestors, watching the coasts of Donegal and the cliffs of Dingle fade behind them. Boarding overcrowded ships and navigating dangerous seas, these resilient travelers looked to the horizon with hope in their hearts. Many left any valuables, land, or stability they had behind, but they came instead with the true treasures of their homeland -- song and literature, humor and tradition, faith and family. And when they landed on our shores, they shared their gifts generously, adding immeasurable value to towns, cities, and communities throughout our Nation.

Today, we draw on the indomitable spirit of those Irish Americans whose strength helped build countless miles of canals and railroads; whose brogues echoed in mills, police stations, and fire halls across our country; and whose blood spilled to defend a Nation and a way of life they helped define. Defying famine, poverty, and discrimination, these sons and daughters of Erin demonstrated extraordinary strength and unshakable faith as they gave their all to help build an America worthy of the journey they and so many others have taken. During Irish-American Heritage Month, we recall their legacy of hard work and perseverance, and we carry forward that singular dedication to forging a more prosperous future for all Americans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2012 as Irish-American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month by celebrating the contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

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