Remarkable journey of transformation
Comments for the annual Irish Fellowship Luncheon in Chicago, Friday 6 December 2013.
“Go raibh míle maith agaibh as an fháilte mhór a chuir sibh romhan anseo inniu.
Earlier today, I signed the Book of Condolence in the South African Consulate in Chicago to pay respect to that global champion of peace Nelson Mandela who was loved and admired in both our countries and who made a crucial contribution to the success of the Irish peace process.
Thank you for the warm welcome to Chicago.
My first invite to Chicago was issued by President Obama when I met him during his visit to Belfast in June of this year. On that occasion before he addressed 2,000 young people, we had a private conversation about Irish America — that’s if you can have a private conversation when 100 secret service agents are looking on.
As publisher of the Irish Echo, the oldest publication serving Irish America, the President was aware that I have met the Irish in every corner of America. But he was keen to tell me that the capital of Irish America is Chicago.
So here I am in the capital of Irish America and this wonderful turnout of over 1,000 people tells me the President was right.
I bring you good news from Belfast where peace, justice and prosperity are blossoming.
I know the positive narrative from Belfast will cheer the Irish of Chicago for no-one worked harder for peace in Ireland than Irish America. Indeed, the history books will record that there would be no peace without Irish America. Without the risk-taking of President Clinton, the diplomacy of Senator George Mitchell, and more recently the timely interventions of President Obama, it’s fair to say that Belfast would not today be enjoying a just peace.
Belfast is undergoing remarkable change.
Belfast is now the fastest-growing knowledge economy in Europe. It is the youngest city in western Europe.
Belfast is home to more bluechip American companies than any other city of its size in the world. Citigroup, Intel, AllState of Illinois with 1400 employees, Visa, Dow Chemical, New York Stock Exchange and Caterpillar all have significant European operations in Belfast.
And, of course, I must mention the most recent investment from the US and one which seals the links between our cities: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange,CME, now has a significant presence in Belfast with over 100 employees.
In short, Belfast has been transformed by the remarkable peace journey on which we are set.
And though the peace will be tested by those on the extremes, my pledge to you is that we will defend the peace with determination in the knowledge that there can be no going back.
But there is a role for each of you. I am here to invite you to come see Belfast for yourself. If you are Irish American and have been to Ireland but not to Belfast, then you haven’t seen the best part of the island. After all, we have just invested $150m in the Belfast Titanic Centre, the greatest visitor attraction in Ireland. If you are in business and are looking at expansion to Europe, use Belfast as your gateway.
There is no surer way to build the peace than with jobs. By visiting Belfast, by locating your company conference there, by investing there, you can help build peace and prosperity in a bright Belfast.”