Senator Schumer, speaking to the Gala audience and holding up an artistic image of the future USS Patrick Gallagher.

Schumer Addresses Ireland Funds Dinner in D.C.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer addressed the 31st annual Ireland Funds Gala in Washington, D.C. Wednesday evening.

The dinner gathering was attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and North First Minister Designate Michelle O'Neill.

Here is an edited version of Senator Schumer's address. 

It is an honor to share the stage this evening with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. So good to see you again – and congratulations on your thunderous Irish National rugby team that is running wild in the Six Nations Tournament.

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And greetings to Northern Ireland’s history-making First Minister-elect Michelle O’Neill. I greatly look forward to things up your way progressing very soon so you can get to work on the job you were elected to do.

My greetings, as well, to Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason and British Ambassador Karen Pierce.

I want to thank Mr. Varadkar and the people of Ireland for supporting the people in Ukraine against the evils of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, immoral and illegal invasion.

Through sanctions, security assistance, and by welcoming Ukrainian refugees, Ireland, and the Ireland Fund, stands squarely on the right side of history. Thank you so much. Of course, this should come as no shock, as the Irish people know a thing or two about unwelcome intruders.

Just ask those fishermen in Cork who chased off the Russian Navy!

Thank you also to the Ireland Funds Board of directors, especially President and CEO Caitriona Fottrell for leading this wonderful organization.

Over three decades, the Ireland Funds has nurtured a more vibrant, more self-sufficient and more equal Ireland, while strengthening the deep and sacred bonds that connect Ireland and the United States.

Now, as you know, James Joyce wrote the following famous words: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

While Joyce’s young artist was on an internal quest, I think it can be truly said that the Ireland Funds seeks to “forge the conscience of the Irish people” externally through its philanthropic work.

Improving education; boosting Irelands’ astounding culture, its music and dance and theatre and more; fostering cross-community relationships and reconciliation.

You and your generous and forward-thinking funders are making a profound difference via the impactful organizations and talented people you invest in. I commend you and the entire board for the wonderful work you do.

And where are my fellow New Yorkers? Thank you also to all of my Congressional colleagues for being here. Thank you especially, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, my co-honoree for joining in this evening. It is an honor to stand before you not just as a speaker but also as one of tonight’s honorees. It is humbling, it is meaningful, but most importantly, it motivates me to keep pursuing what tonight’s dinner is all about: a stronger, healthier, more vibrant friendship between America and Ireland.

It’s wonderful to be in a room full of so many friends I’ve known for years. And look, I get it…some of you might not know me so well. I won’t blame you if you flipped through tonight’s program and thought “Chuck Schumer? What the…?”

But I have to tell you, while Speaker Kevin McCarthy is the one with the Irish name I am the one who comes from Ireland’s 33rd county: Brooklyn, New York!

That’s right: this bar mitzvahed boy Charles Ellis Schumer of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and Good Shepherd parish, and an occasional visitor to The Ashford Arms, the Irish Circle and Buckley’s Pub & Restaurant – has a long, long, long, history with the Irish.

And it’s not just because my sister is Fran Schumer McNulty, and I have a lot of little McNultys running around. It’s not even because I am surrounded by Irish co-conspirators every day, including my chief of staff Mike Lynch and my State Director Martin Brennan. Yes, all of this is true.

But so is this: from my very first campaign in 1974, at the age of 24, without a penny in my campaign or the slightest clue in the world, the Irish community was there for me. When I told my parents I was running for office, they thought I was crazy.

Why, my mom cried, are you turning down a job as a lawyer, a job that pays $400 a week, to chase this ridiculous idea? She wrote her friends to tell them to vote against me!

And she wasn’t alone: most of the neighborhood wrote me off. My own barber took bets on the race; apparently, I was a 50 to 1 underdog.

My mom might have gotten her way, were it not for supporters like Willie Joe Cunningham, “Mr. Donegal,” who took me door-to-door through Irish Brooklyn, to shake hands, make friends, and win votes.

When it seemed like my underdog story would not pan out, when even my own mother turned against me, it was the Irish who had my back. And they made the difference in a tight race.

When I got to Congress, Irish issues became my issues: from funding Irish cultural groups, to supporting the New York GAA and Irish sports, to calling for equality and civil rights in the North. And, of course, immigration was supremely important to the Irish.

From the Irish troops in the British Army who started the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York; to Hercules Mulligan and Washington’s Army; to the waves and waves that came starting in 1820 and the 1840’s to today, immigration has been the lifeline that created and sustains a deep interconnectivity between Ireland and America.

But over the last decades, unintended consequences of U.S. policy unfortunately made it harder and harder for the Irish to come to America. Working with one of my mentors, Tip O’Neill, we addressed that. First with the Donnelly visas, which became the Morrison visas, which in time became the Schumer Visas.

When I became a Senator, the work continued. Over a decade ago, I led the effort with the late Senator McCain to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the Senate with broad bi-partisan support.

And in that bill, I championed a provision granting 10,000 E-visas a year to the Irish people. To rebuild and reenergize a 2-way path between our nations. Now we haven’t passed that bill. Yet. But I will be back at it, and one day I believe we will get it done. 

Another area of work that I am passionate about is honoring the memory of the countless Irish heroes who have contributed to this country.

Heroes like the 27 Irish Citizens who died in the Korean War. Working with my great friend, Senator Teddy Kennedy, we passed a law to finally make them American citizens. And heroes like Patrick Gallagher an Irish immigrant who, like so many before him, came to America half a century ago, him from Ballyhaunis in County Mayo. Patrick was not yet a citizen, but he still chose to serve in the Vietnam war.

He became a Marine, and one night in the jungle he saved the lives of his fellow Marines by jumping onto a live grenade and, just in time, tossing it into a river. But like so many others, Patrick never came home.

On one of his last days of service — one of his last! — Corporal Patrick Gallagher was killed in action.

Nearly fifty years later, I was proud to work with his family, with then Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to have the US Navy name one of its new state-of-the art destroyers in honor of Corporal Patrick Gallagher. I am so proud to report that this awesome ship, being built at Bath Iron Works in Maine, will be christened in six months.

For the first time ever, a US Navy ship will bear the name of an Irish Citizen. An immigrant who was not yet an American and nevertheless gave his life for this country.

Now, it is my fervent hope that the combination of the launching of the USS Patrick Gallagher and the upcoming visit to Ballina by the Mayo Man-in-Chief, President Joe Biden, will be just the thing to break the curse that hangs over the Mayo football team. And that this year, finally, Mayo will lift The Sam Maguire in Croke Park. Who knows? Miracles do happen. Sometimes suddenly. Sometimes slowly.

And over the past two and half decades, since the seminal Good Friday Agreement, a slow and sometimes sputtering, sometimes maddening, but stubborn and resilient and methodical miracle has transformed the north of Ireland.

Transformed it from a place dominated by war and sectarian violence and chronic unemployment and retribution and hopelessness to a place where peace is the norm, there is a framework for governing, and business is growing and there is, sometimes, the possibility of moving closer to a society based on universal equality and mutual respect and understanding.

Peace is not easy. As Yeats told us: “Peace comes dropping slow.” And the reality in the North is certainly not the land of Tír na nÓg, but neither is it the place of despair it used to be.

I care deeply about peace and justice in the North. It’s why I have spoken out against some of the worst behaviors and human rights abuses of the British government during the Troubles. It is why I have spoken against current proposals in the UK that would undermine the ability of victims of the Troubles from seeking justice.

And it is why I supported getting a visa for Gerry Adams as a critical precursor to energizing the peace process. And it is why I proudly joined my colleagues, and so much of Irish America, in supporting that peace process, a process that led to the Good Friday Agreement, and the Stormont Agreement.

This was an extraordinary achievement by all sides in the North, as well at the governments of Britain and Ireland. And it was a monumental achievement of American diplomacy. This year we observe the 25th anniversary of that momentous political accord.

Unfortunately, these past few years since Brexit has put the whole achievement, and the precious progress it begat, under great stress.

So, I joined with President Biden, and with former Speaker Pelosi, in saying clearly that there cannot be a return to a hard border, and we cannot have modifications to the Northern Irish Protocols that undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

I have also been very clear that, as Majority Leader of the United States Senate, which decides on treaties, that I will not support a trade deal between the US and UK if any settlement undermined the Good Friday Agreement.

We all want to see an open Irish border, and other vital parts of the good Friday Agreement, continue to deliver the dividends of prosperity that derive connectivity and democracy and self-government. This is why it is so vital that we soon see a power-sharing and elected Assembly and Executive government at Stormont back up and running.

I am pleased that the most recent developments are positive and encouraging. I believe that the new Windsor Framework is a strong step in the right direction. And I applaud Prime Minister Sunak and the EU for their work negotiating this challenging deal.

I agree with President Biden that the deal protects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market as well as the EU’s single market, to the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland.

And now that the Windsor Framework has been announced, I sincerely hope that it clears the way for the DUP to join Sinn Féin in a power-sharing government, as was decided by the people of Northern Ireland in the last election.

I say to all parties in the North, but especially to the DUP: let’s get to the peoples’ business.

The business of power-sharing and self-governing, something that was made possible by the Good Friday framework; governing based on equality and good faith and mutual respect.

Lord knows this is not easy stuff. Governing through polarization and passionate parties and economic challenges is supremely difficult. But the only way forward is collaborative.

Let’s work together by standing up the institutions of government that are very pillars of a society governed by laws and self-determination — and not by the gun or by colonial intervention.

I assure you that I will work in a bi-partisan and bicameral way here in the US Congress to support this effort in any way possible.

Let me close on one fundamental element of Celtic culture inimical to their attraction to America and vice versa: The Irish people’s deep connection to justice. It is, ironically, a connection forged from centuries of injustice. From being forcibly dispossessed of your own home and soil; From being made a tenant on that which you once freely farmed and walked and hunted; From being denied the right to vote; From having to hide your own culture and gather, furtively, by the hedges, to educate oneself, or to use one’s own language, or to pray to one’s own God in one’s own way.

These things, and so much more, were denied to the Irish people in Ireland.

All this bequeathed the Irish a deep love for the underdog. A passion for long shots and lost causes.

And an affinity for a system of government that could protect minorities and a love for a culture that allowed for the freedom of association and free expression. It also gave the Irish an appreciation of the value, and sanctifying power, of enduring through immense struggle.

It is here where I look at the Irish and see parts of myself, and my family, staring back. We both have a shared story of enduring oppression. A shared story of fighting injustice. A shared story of escaping poverty and intolerance and fleeing, sometimes even from hunger and hate and death, to find a new life in a great new land.

Is that not, my friends, what America is ultimately about? The work of building a country that lives up to these ideals continues in our time.

It is through great organizations like the Ireland Funds that countless Irish have prospered back home and here in America. It is because of organizations like yours that millions can celebrate the amazing alchemy in America: that you can be completely Irish and completely American all at once.

And that, my friends, is how we make our nation a stronger, fairer, more prosperous place to live. So, let me raise a glass and toast the Irish Funds and all who here: Happy Saint Patrick's Day, Slainte. Thank you so much. God bless you, God Bless the Irish and God bless the United States of America.

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