March 14, 2019
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar for the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Please be seated as we proceed. Good afternoon everyone!
Welcome to what has become a wonderful tradition in the Congress of the United States. I open this meeting – this luncheon, I was just saying to the President, was begun – he knows – but some of the further history to it.
Mr. President, this luncheon was begun by President Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. The first luncheon was held in 1983, the Taoiseach was not present at that but the next year, they decided they would invite the Taoiseach and that was Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. He’s the first Taoiseach to participate.
So in honor of Speaker Tip O’Neill who extended the first invitation, I’m going to open this meeting with this gavel. This, Mr. President, is the gavel that Tip O’Neill’s family gave him when he became Speaker. Peter, it’s Waterford Crystal, you can only use it gently. If not, only once.
So, welcome, as we gather to celebrate the feast of St. Patrick and to toast the friendship between our two great nations. Again, a generation ago, two great Irish Americans, the Republican President Ronald Reagan and the Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill began this special bipartisan tradition.
Today, the bonds between our two countries and our two people remain as firm. The U.S. President – Mr. President – may I also welcome Mr. Vice President. Welcome! Welcome to all of you, our friends from Ireland.
And at that time Mr. President, this is important to note, Mr. Speaker, Tip O’Neill invited 16 Members of Congress to this lunch. 12 of them were from Massachusetts.
10 of them were Irish.
In any event, since then, the luncheon has grown with broad support in our Congress. We’re so happy that Leader McCarthy is here with us, and our Leader, Mr. Hoyer.
And then it went that we had friends not only from Ireland, but from Northern Ireland, and then even the British Ambassador, and that was an outreach as well.
This has been a tradition where we dispense with our differences, whether they are political, whether they’re competitive in any other way, in any event, where we come together and celebrate.
And this is what I want to say about Ronald Reagan, proud that he was a California President.
Mr. President, here’s what he said, because he and Tip O’Neill, despite their other differences, had one thing in common: they understood the valuable contribution that Irish Americans made to our country, and beyond Irish Americans.
So he said, ‘Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we are a nation forever young. Forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation.’ President Reagan went onto say, ‘If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.’
Ronald Reagan. His last speech as President of the United States.
The story of Ireland and the United States.
You can applaud if you want.
The story of Ireland and the United States is a tribute to those words. Here in America, we take great pride in the Irish heritage that millions in our country claim. Some are really Irish.
And in the enduring contribution the Irish have made to our nation: in our politics, businesses and our community.
Earlier, our Friends of Ireland Co-Chairs Richie Neal and Peter King – we were saying to the Taoiseach how unusual it was when President Kennedy became the first Catholic President of the United States. It was crossing a threshold that was so dramatic and opened the door to so much more.
Well I don’t have Irish grandparents, I do have Irish grandchildren – Liam, Sean and Ryan. They’ve been baptized in the Kilquade church, in County Wicklow and they always remind me of the exuberant spirit of the Irish people.
In fact, they had this toast that they liked to make, they’re bigger now, teenagers, but when they were little, they’d have this toast that said ‘Dance as if no one is watching, love as though you’ve never loved before, sing as though no one can hear you, and live as though heaven is on earth.’
So I said to them, ‘Is that a precious toast in your Irish family?’ And they said, ‘No, it’s a poster we saw in Shannon airport.’
So, anyway, on a serious note, as we celebrate our common heritage, we also look to the future and our shared interests: working to continue peace in Northern Ireland; reaffirming our commitment to the European-U.S. relationship that is the anchor of freedom in the West and throughout the world; supporting all our alliances and combating threats to our democracies and election systems; and protecting our people by safeguarding clean air and clean water – the Irish, so many ideas when we were in Ireland as to how we go forward in terms of a good energy economy with good-paying jobs.
So in that spirit, I welcome the Taoiseach. We’re so honored and so proud that you are with us, and a number of Taoiseachs have been with us since 1984, every year – it was asked if the President always came to this lunch – oh, yes. It’s a command performance, but a nice family affair.
So, here we are, and I have been told, I have been told, that the appropriate introduction for the next person I am to present to you, is to keep it very simple. The appropriate introduction is: ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.