The US Ireland Forum Highlights

Tom Moran of Mutual of America with Patricia Harty and Niall O'Dowd
Tom Moran of Mutual of America with Patricia Harty and Niall O'Dowd

February / March 2008

The inaugural U.S.-Ireland Forum was held in New York on November 7 and 8. Irish America magazine, together with The American Ireland Fund, University College Dublin, and the Irish Government co-hosted the event at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel.

Over the two days some of the finest Irish and Irish-American minds came together to discuss the changing relationship between the two countries. Themes explored included: Social Capital and Philanthropy, Culture and Education, The Future of the Celtic Tiger, Philanthropy in Ireland, and Ireland–U.S. : The Next Generation. The following pages give a small taste of what took place with excerpts from some of the many speeches.

Here are some highlights:

ON THE FUTURE OF THE CELTIC TIGER:

The Celtic Tiger is a very good description for the problem and the challenge facing Ireland now.  Like the tigers in Southeast Asia, what Ireland has to answer over the next few year is, can it become a self-sustaining economy?  All the growth and benefit was driven by the fact that Ireland had the best education, the highest literacy rate, and the lowest salaries in Europe.  This is now being supplanted by Eastern Europe. I say this as a person who is always facing the choice of where to invest and who to invest with. Increasingly over the last year we have not been finding opportunities in Ireland. That is not because we don’t believe that Ireland has a great economy, but because the opportunities for investing are slowing. Not only because of India and China, but also because of Poland and the Czech Republic who are just like the Ireland of ten years ago.

Ireland needs to make the transition that Singapore and Korea made – that even if external growth and external demand slowed, we would be able to survive and continue to increase GDP. Ireland has, so far, allowed immigration, and that is a really important feeder in the productivity process. Growth and external investment depend almost entirely on Ireland showing that it has self-generating growth.

- Richard Medley,
Chairman, Medley Capital

The Tiger hasn’t gone lame, we have seen some slowdown, a reality check, we have had some recent job losses but that is usual for other markets so why should it be unusual for us? The cost of doing business in Ireland is a little too high in my opinion, and the biggest threat of all is complacency.  We must address our competitiveness, keep an eye on globalization issues, and the cost of living must be controlled. We must not talk ourselves into recession.

Maybe the accidental element of the Celtic Tiger has run its course and it is time for us to do what we do best, be innovative, and redefine our business plan and work for a living.

- Ian Hyland, Publisher, Business & Finance Magazine

ON THE FORUM:

If you put the finger on the pulse of all the people here today, you will find a significant sea change: something entirely new and unique is happening.  Instead of silence, exile and cunning, we are experiencing an explosion of togetherness,  participation and empathy.  A whole new direction is being taken because of a deep confluence of ideas between people in different spheres – culture, philanthropy and business.  It’s a fantastic surprise, a whole new pulse, the pulse of an old wound that goes through now to the opposite side.

- Colum McCann, Novelist

I had the good sense this morning to look up the word Diaspora in the dictionary, which I still do occasionally.  It is a Greek word that means “a scattering”  or  “a sowing of seeds.” Another interpretation is  that of “displacement.”  I’d like to think that today many of those seedsscattered across the globe have found their place here and in a broader sense are finding their places around the world.

During the summer I was at a “Flight of the Earls” conference in County Donegal organized by Ulster University.  It was an opportunity to mark that historic event that took place 400 years ago this year.  At the conference they spoke of the Diaspora as a “coming and going.”  So today we can no longer think about the Irish Diaspora as a population forced to leave their homeland, experiencing a displacement that was very sad.  Today we must think of it as a coming and going and a powerful sharing with each other.

- Turlough McConnell, Executive Director, the U.S.-Ireland Forum

ON WHY DIASPORA MATTERS:

At Glucksman Ireland House we teach the Irish language and it is not all Irish kids, it’s Asian kids, it’s African-American kids. To walk into that classroom would just lift your heart. The Irish language, which for so long was lying fallow as a dead language, is now hot, and the best fun is talking to the kids and learning their motivation for taking on a pretty tough language. Sometimes it is that they are in love with an Irish kid and they want to impress the family! I think that culture and education can cross a whole bunch of boundaries that seem insurmountable.

- Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman, The American Ireland Fund, and Founder of Glucksman Ireland House at NYU

It is time for a think tank, for a comprehensive scholarly and intelligent approach to plotting the future of this critical relationship between Ireland and America which is taken far too much for granted. Irish America must also change because of the new reality. For too long we have been identified in part by a bogus and trivial culture that focuses on green hats, leprechauns and beer drinking. Is that what we want America to know us for? -

Niall O’Dowd,  Publisher, Irish America Magazine

Those of us who grew up in the Diaspora have an obligation to try to help this amazingly unusual situation in Ireland.  For the first time I think in history, we have an unarmed group of immigrants coming to Ireland. We have been exporting people for hundreds of years now, particularly since the 19th century to this city [New York]. I think one of the things we have an obligation to do is to help Ireland itself in the quest for absorbing immigration, because that was our tale. We had things done to us, but we happened to win the later rounds, particularly after 1960 with the election of Jack Kennedy. But we had things done to us and we learned how to be truly tough, to endure without talking tough.

- Pete Hamill, Irish-American Journalist and Author

IRELAND & AMERICA: THE NEW PARADIGM:

I don’t see why economic success argues against culture. They can coexist.  It is about reinventing Ireland. The Celtic Tiger phase was really positive, really fantastic. A lot of people came home. The situation now is: if there is a downturn we can sit back and think about the country. Ireland is interesting because we are half American half European, and that is what gives us our unique selling point. Culturally we are extremely close to the United States, but politically and geographically we are close to Europe. That is our unique
selling point.  In the long term Ireland will realize that that is where our vested interest lies.  Right now the government is obsessed with getting deeper and deeper into the European Union.  Ultimately it is looking to the East, whereas Irish people have always looked to the West for economic opportunity. Ireland is an Atlantic nation, not a continental European one.  I think the Diaspora idea [we are talking about here] would allow us to pursue a policy that is less defined by Brussels or Berlin or Bucharest, and more defined by something that links to our history and our people. This is part of an active reinvention of our culture and society for the 21st century.  Genuflecting to our past, to where we are geographically from, but also embracing the Diaspora, which is our only unique global resource.

- David McWilliams, Economist and Broadcaster

We need Irish and Americans to learn a lot from each other about the immigration heritage, what it’s about and how to react to it and to be smart about it. If we think about the relationship between Ireland  and the United States [with respect to our current immigration question] and Ireland’s relationship to the world in terms of its immigration [practice] then what you want for the future will tell you how to fix the mistakes of the past.

- Bruce Morrison, Former Congressman, Instigator of the Morrison Visas

What I hope to demonstrate and what I hope the panel demonstrates is that Irish America does have an ongoing role to play in the ongoing educational and cultural life of Ireland, North and South. But that role can only be played to the degree that the Irish mind itself is free enough to accept gifts beyond the checkbook; gifts of the minds and hearts and sensibilities and spirit that Irish America has kept alive. I have experienced enormous generosity in Ireland, both personally and for the work I’ve tried to do there, just extraordinary generosity and I don’t want to take away from that. But I have experienced  in Ireland a cynicism in regards to Irish America and above all, a cynicism in what they see in us as a sentimental, romantic almost a nincompoop kind of relationship to Irish culture born of total ignorance. What is left out of that equation is a lack of understanding of Irish-American culture, what we have passed through, and indeed what we are doing – particularly through the Irish Studies programs that have been created across the country in the last ten or fifteen years to keep alive traditions that in many ways, and I can speak out of personal experience on this, many ways have been lost or derided in Ireland itself. The work of Yeats itself is an example of that, the work of Thomas Moore is an example of that, those are personal examples of mine.

- James Flannery, Winship Professor of Arts and Humanities, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

I think culture is the unspoken aorta valve that keeps Ireland alive all over the world. I think culture is the thing that everyone touches and feels.  Why is it that everyone in this country loves St. Patrick’s Day? In this country it is a day of pride for all of us. Everybody likes Ireland.  It is a phenomenal asset and we don’t utilize it half as much as we ought to.

- Declan Kelly, President & CEO,  FD-US

 

THE DREAM:

Do you know about Grosse Ile? It’s an island in the St. Lawrence River in Canada where thousands of Irish are buried in mass graves. Estimates are that one in seven famine immigrants never [survived the journey]. And that their life span was seven to fourteen years if they did.

All we ever learned in Ireland was that they got on the coffin ships. We didn’t learn what happened to them once they got here.
It is my dream that Ireland, the mother country, would care enough to know what happened to her children, and teach that history in the schools.

Terry Dolan [Professor, School of English, University College Dublin] talked about a building and how many “stories” there are in a building. There are enough stories in Irish America to fill a very tall building.

Mick Moloney’s class at New York University, “The Irish-American in Music, Theatre and Dance,” is one of the most popular. And what a legacy we have there – not only do we have Gene Kelly, whose mother ran an Irish stepdancing school, we have Eugene O’Neill who once said, “The thing that critics don’t get about me and my work is that I’m Irish.” O’Neill never put a foot on Irish soil but you only have to see his plays to know that you don’t have to be born on the island of Ireland to be Irish.

My dream is that Mick Moloney’s class would be taught in all of the colleges in Ireland – that Irish Studies classes would become Irish-American Studies – or I’d settle for Diaspora Studies.

It’s such a great history [the history of the Irish in America]. There are millions of stories out there. And I hope the new International Center at UCD has a place for all of them.

- Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief of Irish America magazine

 

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