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Oireachtas and Congress strengthen ties

Pictured in Washington, D.C. during the ministerial and Oireachtas visit last week were (l-r) Senator Mark Daly, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Congressman Peter King, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Senator Denis O’Donovan, Deputy Aonghus O’Snodaigh, Irish Ambassador to the U.S., Dan Mulhall, and Deputy Joan Burton. Photo by Marty Katz.


By Irish Echo Staff

In addition to Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, being in Washington, D.C. last week, the nation’s capital also played host to an Oireachtas parliamentary delegation led by Cathaoirleach (chairman) of the Irish Senate, Seanad Eireann, Denis O’Donovan.

There were four additional members in the visiting delegation: Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Aonghus O’Snodaigh, Deputy Joan Burton and Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.

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The visitors were, according to a release, representing a new group, called the “Irish-U.S. Parliamentary Friendship Group.”

An invitation to initiate this transatlantic parliamentary collaboration was sent last year by Congressman Richard Neal, Chairman of the Friends of Ireland in Congress.

In addition to Rep. Neal, the visitors met with State Department officials and also Congressman Pete King (R-NY), Co-Chair of the Friends of Ireland, Congressman Conor Lamb (D-PA), Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama), Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), Congressman David Joyce (R-Ohio), and Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT).

Speaking to an Irish Network D.C. reception at the Irish Embassy, Senator O’Donovan said in part: “One hundred years ago, in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House, a small group of men – 27 in all - gathered to inaugurate Dáil Éireann, the first truly democratic Irish parliament.

"Their meeting lasted under two hours. But changed forever the course of our nation’s history.

"Working largely through Irish, but translating to English and French, they adopted a provisional constitution and agreed three foundational texts – the Declaration of Independence, the Democratic Programme and 'Message to the Free nations of the World.'

"The latter included the following statement: ‘Internationally, Ireland is the gateway of the Atlantic. Ireland is the last outpost of Europe towards the West: Ireland is the point upon which great trade routes between East and West converge: her independence is demanded by the Freedom of the Seas: her great harbours must be open to all nations.’

“The Taoiseach last year launched a program called Global Ireland. But what this statement makes clear is that, from its very inception, Ireland has been globally minded. It affirms also Ireland’s role at the centre of transatlantic relations. Part of Europe, but inextricably bound to America.

“From that first Dáil to this, the thirty second, members of the Oireachtas have always worked to advance relations with our U.S. counterparts.

"Friends of Ireland across Congress played an important role in advancing the cause for independence a century ago. And in enabling the peace our island has enjoyed for over two decades.

“One has only to mention the names Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neil or George Mitchell to understand the extent of their contribution.

"But, if you’ll pardon a bad pun - as surely the legendary speaker himself would - these were only the tip of the iceberg.

“Alongside those legends, we owe a debt to countless friends of Ireland, Democrat and Republican.

“It’s to reinforce these ties and build relations with this 116th Congress that our Oireachtas delegation is visiting Washington this week. Our delegation represents some of the diversity of today’s Oireachtas.

“It’s my pleasure to be joined by Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, Sinn Féin Deputy Aonghus O’Snodaigh and not one, but two former Tánaiste – or Deputy Prime Ministers – Joan Burton of the Labour party and Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald.

“That Deputies Burton and Fitzgerald should be part of this delegation is especially fitting.

“As is the fact that tonight should see one outstanding female leader within the Irish community here succeed another as chair of Irish Network DC, as Aoife Delargy takes the mantle from Isobel Murray.

“Because, in addition to marking the centenary of that first Dáil, we’re marking also the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland. The advancement is represented best perhaps in the person of Countess Constance Gore-Booth Markievicz.

“Imprisoned in London as the first Dáil convened, Markievicz was the first woman to have been elected to - and the first to decline a seat in - the British House of Commons.

“Appointed to the Irish cabinet in April 1919, she was also amongst the first women in the world to serve in Ministerial office. In every sense, she was a political trailblazer. And where she led, others followed.

“Though still some distance from where we wish to be, the 32nd Dáil is the most equal in our history, just as is the 116th Congress.

“Deputies Fitzgerald and Bruton are both eminent - I will not say senior - members of the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, established last year.

“And in the course of this visit, we hope to deepen ties with the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, founded in 1977 by Congresswoman Margaret O’Shaughnessy Heckler, the daughter of Irish immigrants who would be appointed by President Reagan as the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

"This evening is one for celebration. And if I did begin to speak to the politics of Brexit and the challenges it poses Ireland, I fear that I might break my earlier promise to keep these remarks briefer than the state of the union.

“I will say only that, whatever else we may disagree on - and from my years as Cathaoirleach, I can assure you that they disagree on much - the members of this delegation are as one in our determination that no hard border be imposed on the island of Ireland.

“As one in recognizing that Ireland’s future is at the heart of the European Union. And as one in our conviction that, whatever the outcome of Brexit may be, our relationship with the United States will matter more than ever.

“The first Dáil, as I mentioned, conducted its business largely through Irish. And like those first deputies, in uncertain times, I find our native language a source of certainty and wisdom. ‘‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’’ is one of my favorite proverbs. Roughly translated it means that ‘‘we are stronger together.”

"That is the fundamental rationale for cross party initiatives like the Irish-U.S. Parliamentary Friendship Group and for networks like IN DC.

"It’s the basis on which the Irish people recognize that our independence is enhanced, not eroded, by EU membership.

“Finally, significantly, it is the basis on which parliamentary democracies the world over are founded.

“John F Kennedy said ‘democracy is never a final achievement. It is a call to an untiring effort.’

“The same is true of the building of peace. As we look to the Hill this evening, or to the debates in London and Brussels in the weeks ahead, we would all do well to keep that truth in mind.”