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Irish Government lunch, Dublin, Friday, 30 April 1999: address.

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11pm AEST, FRIDAY, 30 APRIL, 1999











Taoiseach, Members of the Oireachta s, Ladies and Gentlemen


At the outset, Taoiseach, let me thank you and, through you, the Government and the people of Ireland for the wonderful warmth of the welcome Helen and I have received at every stage of this the first visit to Ireland of a serving Governor-General of Australia. The spirit of friendship and the many acts of kindness which we have encountered speak far more eloquently than I can of the strength of the bonds of ancestry and kinship which exist between our respective countries.


It is, of course, a mistake to view the Irish-Australian relationship purely in terms of those historical bonds. For the relationship is a dynamic and living one. It embraces trade and tourism; commercial investment; cultural and academic exchanges; and thriving sporting connections. And we have many shared political and economic interests both as part of our bilateral relationship and as members of the international community.


There is, of course, much potential for growth. I think we are all conscious of that. For example, given the enormous development of information technology industries in Ireland as a leading element of this country’s remarkable economic performance in recent years, there is considerable scope for increased trade, investment and co-operation between the IT sectors of our two countries. The same can be said of a range of other manufacturing areas such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, processed food and engineering services.


Moreover, each of our countries enjoys commercial strategic advantages which could be more extensively utilised by the other. Ireland’s location on the edge of continental Europe while being part of the European Union, its active development of European markets, its membership of the Euro Economic and Currency Union, its well-educated young workforce, modern infrastructure and strong economic performance offer significant advantages to Australian businesses in their efforts to develop and expand their trade with Europe. In that regard, I notice that, with the encouragement and help of the Irish-Australian Business Association and its Australian counterpart, the Australia Ireland Chamber of Commerce, a number of Australian companies are now operating out of Ireland. Conversely, given the stability and strength of the Australian economy - some overseas commentators have even referred to it as a “miracle” economy, our sophisticated technology, the compatibility of language and culture and our geographic location in the Asia-Pacific, Australia offers many advantages to Irish businesses wishing to establish and expand in our region. In that regard, as you know, some leading Irish companies have already established themselves in Australia as an investment centre and as a base for entering our regional markets.


All that having been said however, the plain fact remains that the reason why the relationship between Ireland and Australia is such a truly unique one is to be found in the extraordinary strength of the bonds which have been forged, through kinship and history, between our countries ... between the Irish and the Australian people.


The ties between our countries go back to the very beginnings of European settlement in Australia in 1788 when Irish convicts were among those who came in the First Fleet.


The torrent of Irish migration to Australia flowed, however, in the decades between the Great Famine and the First World War. During that period, some 300,000 Irish people travelled around the world to Australia. Some were educated professional people. The great majority, including Helen’s and my own great grandparents, were from poorer, rural backgrounds. They came from all regions of Ireland. Some were Catholics and some were Protestants. By 1900, first and second generation Irish people were by far the largest group in the Australian population after the English.


Over the past fifty years we have seen a remarkable transformation in Australia. During that half-century, more than five and a half million people have migrated to our shores from 140 different countries, representing all the regions, races, religions an d cultures of the world.


What has held today’s Australians together, enriching and unifying our modern society through all those changes, has been a policy of multicultural inclusiveness which has been endorsed by all our major political parties. The essence of that policy is a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance for each other, whatever our differing backgrounds may be.


That transformation and that influx of new Australians from all parts of the world have neither undermined nor weakened Australia’s Irish heritage. To the contrary, the emphasis upon mutual acceptance of, and respect for, racial, religious and other differences has served to heighten awareness of Irish ancestry and to obliterate the significance of differences of religious or regional backgrounds. Indeed, notwithstanding the influx of migrants from other countries, the Irish influence in Australia is as vibrant, dynamic and as far-reaching as it ever was. Currently, more than one-third of us Australians are Irish born or direct descendants of Irish immigrants. That proportion is higher than in any other country outside Ireland itself. In total there are more than six million Australians who can claim some Irish ancestry. Considerably more than the total population of this island!


That being so, it is not surprising that the largest Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Australian Parliament is the Australia-Ireland one. It includes more than half the members of our national Parliament. When it became known that I was making this visit to Ireland, I was asked by the Executive of the Group to bring a message to the President of Ireland, and through her, to the Irish people. That message emphasizes the ideals of freedom, equality and a fair go for all which it recognises as coming to us from Ireland through the Irish who settled in Australia. It ends, with the expression of the hope and the prayer that those involved in the Northern Ireland peace process will succeed in bringing about a just and lasting peace and equal dignity for all. I should add that both the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, have asked me to tell you how fervently they support that message and that hope and prayer for true and lasting peace.


Nor is it surprising that the influence of Ireland and the Irish in the development of Australia has been and remains immense. The numbers alone made it all but inevitable that that would be so. But the true influence of Ireland and the Irish in the development of Australia is not to be measured in terms of numbers. It goes far beyond that. And it also goes far beyond the names of individual Irish men and women who played leading roles in all aspects of Australian life during our nation’s formative years. For the plain fact is that the Irish influence has extended and extends to every part of Australian life - our politics, our laws, our institutions, particularly our culture, our beliefs and our values. It has played a critical role in the development and framing of our very identity ... of who we Australians are and what we do.


Before I came to Ireland for this visit, I thought long and hard about the message I should bring to the Irish people from Australians, including those more than six million Australians of Irish descent. I concluded that there was little doubt about the character and the content of that message. Obviously, in its character, it is a message of friendship and fellowship. In so far as Australians of Irish descent are concerned, it is a message of family ... of true kinship. And from all Australians it is a message of real affection. In so far as content is concerned, it is in part a message that, in view of the strength of the bonds that link us, our mutual relationship in matters of trade and commerce and personal contact and communication should be even stronger. Overwhelmingly, however, it is the message of hope which our Australia-Irish Parliamentary Group asked me to convey ... the hope of all Australians, particularly the more than six million of us who come, or whose ancestors came, from this magic island, that those involved in the peace process will quickly succeed in achieving true and lasting peace and dignity for all who live here. We look to you with affection, with heartfelt support and, let me be frank, with expectation.


I conclude with the prayer with which I concluded my comments at the Dinner last night for really it succinctly summarizes all that I could want to say. May God hold all the Irish and all Australians together in the palm of His hand.




jy 11051999