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Minister Creed's speech at St Patricks Festival Gala Dinner, London, 17 March 2018

Deputy Mayor, Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be here this evening at the London St. Patrick’s Festival Ball and I would like to wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Firstly, I would like to thank and congratulate Jacqueline O’Donovan and the entire St. Patrick’s Festival Ball Committee for organising such a wonderful event which has become a cornerstone of the St. Patrick’s celebrations in London. The continued popularity and strength of this occasion bear testament to the extraordinary strength and vibrancy of the Irish community in London.

It has been quite a remarkable year since the last Ball. At home, our economic recovery is now firmly established and Ireland has made steady progress towards placing our public finances on a sustainable footing.

We continue to experience solid economic growth with 3.5% Real GDP growth forecast in 2018. Economic activity is broadly based. Unemployment has fallen steadily from a peak of 16% in 2012 to 6% in February 2018. Ireland is a stable, competitive, secure, and pro-business economy.

With a positive economic outlook, the Government is now focused on minimsing the impact of Brexit for the island of Ireland. Undoubtedly there are major challenges ahead in the negotiations, but we have prepared well: Ireland and the EU will meet these challenges. We are confident that our economy is resilient and that appropriate fiscal policies are now in place.

A headline priority is of course the potential impact of a UK exit for Northern Ireland and for the peace process. This includes maintaining the open, and effectively invisible, border.

We want to maintain the Common Travel Area and the current situation regarding reciprocal citizens' rights and the ability of Irish and British citizens to live, work, study, access health, housing, welfare and pensions in each other's countries. I would like to reassure Irish citizens living here that their rights have not changed – they are the same as they were before Article 50 was triggered by the UK. 

We want to maintain the trading relationships that have existed on our islands for many decades. We will work for the closest possible trading relationship between the EU and the UK but also in a range of other areas where close cooperation makes sense.

We are pleased with the emphasis on the unique Irish issues and we will continue to work very closely with Michel Barnier and his team to ensure that Ireland’s positions are fully reflected in the negotiations.

We are not under any illusions about the complexity of these negotiations and continue our detailed analysis and policy responses to prepare for Brexit. This is going to be a long process and the outcome is far from determined – but we will continue to strive for the best possible outcome.

In April we will mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement both at home and abroad. Here in Britain particularly, it is a timely moment to reflect upon the warm relations our two countries enjoy. 

The commemorative events which will take place, including an event at the Barbican, will both highlight and mark the achievement of the Agreement, which remains the cornerstone of the Peace Process and the framework for relationships across these islands. Decades of dialogue, outreach, negotiation, political leadership and quiet diplomacy culminated at Easter 1998 in what was a historic achievement.

The Agreement remains the indispensable framework for providing stable, inclusive, power-sharing government for all the people of Northern Ireland, and for sustaining our interlocking relationships – within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.

It is a living document, a foundation to a changing, sometimes challenging and still developing process of peace and reconciliation. The journey towards reconciliation is an ongoing one and events will include a focus on the vision in the Agreement of a reconciled society – endorsed by the people of the island of Ireland on 22nd May 1998.

The 20th anniversary will be an opportunity to restate the commitments in the Agreement to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement and to explore and set out a renewed vision to achieve this.  

2018 is also a year in which Culture Ireland will be focusing on Britain, with its ambitious GB18 programme of events. I know the programme had a hugely successful event at the Barbican at the start of this month.

The importance of showcasing Irish culture here in the UK is important now more than ever as a way to highlight the strong cultural links between our two countries that will remain of great importance despite current challenges.

Creative and cultural initiatives like this give Ireland a larger footprint in the world than a country of our size would otherwise have and are hugely important in attracting a diverse array of inward talent.

I would also like to thank and congratulate every member of the Irish community here this evening. We deeply value the contribution that you make in so many ways, whether it’s playing an active part in Irish business networks, expanding business links in Ireland, encouraging people to visit Ireland or promoting Irish food, culture and tourism. I’d like to thank you for every way in which you are an advocate for Ireland.

Ladies and gentlemen, in concluding, I would like to wish you all a very happy St Patrick’s Day. 

It is a time for us to express our deep pride in being Irish and to reinforce the already strong bonds with Ireland and with the extended Irish family worldwide. It is truly an honour for me to be here today to celebrate with you.

Beannachtaí na féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! Enjoy the evening!

 

Embassy London

March 2018