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Remarks at a State Dinner Honoring President Mary Robinson of Ireland

June 13, 1996

Ladies and gentlemen, President Robinson, Mr. Robinson, members of the Irish delegation, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, distinguished guests. Welcome to the largest gathering of Irish-Americans since the last Notre Dame football game. [Laughter]

Hillary and I were hoping that we might with this wonderful dinner tonight in some small way repay President Robinson and the people of Ireland for the wonderful reception that we and our American delegation received there late last year. It was, I think it's fair to say, two of the most extraordinary days in the lives of all of us who went. And we hope now to give a similar honor to the extraordinary President of Ireland.

From the beginning of her career in public life—and she was elected to the Seanad at the age of 25—Mary Robinson has stood unfailingly for those on the margins of society, for those without a voice in public affairs, for those most in need, for the rights of women and the care of the children at home and around the world. She said, "You have a voice; I will make it heard." And she has. And Ireland has heeded her strong and compassionate call, and indeed the entire world has applauded her leadership.

We are truly glad you are here, Madam President, especially at this moment when Ireland is thriving, stronger, more prosperous, and prouder than at any time in its rich history. Modern Ireland has stepped forward as a nation whose goods are traded around the world and whose music, movies, and literature are treasures of global culture. And Ireland is playing an even greater role on the world stage to the benefit of nations everywhere. Indeed, every day for the last 40 years, somewhere in the world an Irish citizen has worked for peace and humanity.

In the North, though the way is not always easy, a lasting and peaceful settlement is closer than at any time in memory, in good measure because Ireland has worked so steadfastly for every chance for peace.

The friendship between the United States is stronger than ever. Indeed, friendship is an inadequate word for the relationship between two nations as intertwined as ours. From the earliest times of our history, the Irish have been at the heart of our striving to be a better nation. By supporting Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Irish immigrants helped to prod America to improve and broaden the reach of our democracy. They stood unflinchingly for freedom all the way. Two hundred thousand Irish-Americans fought in our Civil War, the most costly part of our journey toward a more perfect Union.

While the Irish made their presence felt in America, we like to believe America's presence was felt in Ireland as well. Ideas about selfgovernment that developed here were carried across the ocean and espoused by leaders like Wolfe Tone, Daniel O'Connell, and Charles Stewart Parnell. The devotion of Irish-Americans to the cause of Irish liberty and their support of the Irish state is renowned here at home and around the world.

Today we celebrate all these ties and others that go to the deepest part of our life and character as a nation. But we cannot imagine America without the Irish-Americans. Whether in business or politics, the arts or entertainment, or making the life of every community in this country a little stronger, they have graced our country in immeasurable ways.

President Robinson, in 1916 Patrick Pearse, the Irish poet and patriot, described Irish-Americans as the "sea-divided Gael." It was a haunting phrase from a year of bloodshed. Tonight we see that on both sides of the sea the Irish are flourishing. The love and joy that unites us is far, far broader and stronger than the sea which divides us.

So ladies and gentlemen, let us all raise a glass to the partnership of Ireland and America, to the extraordinary community of Irish-Americans for which we are so grateful, and to the President of Ireland and her health, well-being, and the future of her beloved country.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:25 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a State Dinner Honoring President Mary Robinson of Ireland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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