Editor’s Note: Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, is concluding his five-year term this week. Here, in his final blog post for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs as Ambassador published on August 10, Mulhall reflects on his experience and the enduring special relationship between Ireland and America.
Today, I bring to an end a five-year assignment as Ireland’s 18th Ambassador to the United States. It has also been forty-four years since I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have cherished every minute of my professional life and there is nothing I would want to change. It has been a true privilege to represent my country around the world and I am grateful to have had that precious opportunity. I want to thank my Foreign Affairs colleagues stretching back over the decades for their collegial effort in representing Ireland internationally. I have enjoyed working with successive generations of Irish political leaders from across the spectrum.
I have had the privilege of serving in important posts – Berlin, London, Washington – and have been present for momentous occasions – the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the historic first Irish State Visit to the UK by President Higgins in 2004 spring to mind as highlights. During what I fancifully call my personal diplomatic odyssey, I have seen Ireland transformed from an economic outlier in the European Community to a successful country at the heart of today’s European Union. The solidarity shown by our EU partners with regard to Brexit has further underlined the value of our membership.
I arrived in Washington from London in August 2017 and have now visited all 50 US States (I had been to Alaska and Hawaii as a tourist before 2017), witnessing the incredible diversity of America and the scale of Irish connections here. I have experienced Washington during the Trump and Biden Administrations, and with Republicans (2017-19) and Democrats (2021-) in control of Congress. I have met a range of fascinating people and learned a lot about America and what makes it tick.
Like my predecessors, I have been buoyed by the warmth that Americans display towards Ireland. All across the USA, I have met people who are deeply proud of their Irish heritage which is often an important part of their American identity. Many Irish Americans possess a genuine admiration for, and affiliation with, Ireland. This unique liaison with the world’s premier power is hugely valuable for us.
It was a privilege for me to attend the inauguration of President Biden, the President with the strongest Irish heritage since John F. Kennedy. The President epitomises the best of Irish America with his genuine and enduring affection for his Irish American upbringing, not to mention his enthusiasm for Irish poetry, which he frequently quotes.
— Daniel Mulhall (@DanMulhall) January 20, 2021
Ireland has always had close friends in the US Senate and I have had great engagement with Senators on both sides of the aisle, including the doyen of Irish American politicians, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is now the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate.
Our ties with the USA have considerable political value. Support for the Northern Ireland peace process in successive Administrations and in Congress is bipartisan like few other issues. The Congressional Friends of Ireland (now co-chaired by Congressmen Richie Neal and Mike Kelly) have been working for peace and reconciliation for more than 40 years. One of its founding members was a Senator from Delaware, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Our Friends in Congress have been particularly active and effective this past five years, notably in their defence of the Good Friday Agreement from the risks posed to it by the version of Brexit chosen by the British Government. A Congressional Delegation visited Ireland in April 2019 led by Speaker Pelosi and Ways and Means Chairman, Congressman Richie Neal. It also included the son of an immigrant from Donegal, Congressman Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania. The strong stance they took during that visit reverberated strongly and continues to be an important factor in support of the Northern Ireland Protocol as a necessary instrument for coping with the implications of Brexit on the island of Ireland.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April 2023, there will be an opportunity to recall and celebrate the US contribution to that game-changing achievement for Ireland, North and South. We will also benefit from continued US involvement with the cause of peace in Ireland and I am confident this will be forthcoming in the future as it has been in the past. Irish Americans take a genuine pride in the impact they had in helping bring peace to Ireland and, in my experience, are determined to do what they can to underpin that process into the future.
Another feature of my experience here has been the extent and depth of our economic ties with the USA. This is anchored in extensive two-way flows of trade and investment between us. The importance of US investment in Ireland is well-known and some 800 top companies employ more than 160,000 in Ireland. What is even more remarkable is the dramatic growth of Irish investment in the USA where, despite our small population, Ireland is in the top 10 as a source of foreign investment into the USA. Moreover, trade between us has flourished in recent times and actually increased during the pandemic which shows how reliable Ireland is as part of the American supply chain.
For me, a big highlight has been the opportunity to meet Irish communities all over this vast country. I have addressed Irish American audiences in places as far afield as San Antonio, San Diego, Seattle, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Scranton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Savannah, and Miami to name but a few. Always the welcome has been warm and the interest in Ireland invariably keen.
I am sometimes asked to point to a highlight of my five years in the USA. I normally reply by referring to the opportunity I had to speak at a ceremony at Promontory Point in Utah in May 2019 to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. My task that day was to pay tribute to the 12,000 Irish workers who laboured for years in trying conditions to connect America from coast to coast. The names of those who worked on that ambitious construction project have largely been lost to history as they left little or no written record behind them. They and millions like them who made that perilous journey across the Atlantic, and on to America’s expanding frontier, created the bedrock on which our contemporary relationship with the United States is firmly and permanently rooted.
I now move to New York to teach at Glucksman Ireland House at NYU where I will strive to deepen knowledge of Ireland among students at that distinguished seat of learning.
Slán agus beannacht.