President McAleese arriving at the Hutt Valley Irish Society
All photos are, of course, generously provided by Emotif Photography
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Remarks by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, at the Hutt Valley Irish Society, Tuesday 30 October 2007
Ms Shirley Duffy, President of the Hutt Valley Irish Society, Committee Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here with you today. Thank you very much for the invitation to join you at the Irish Club's wonderful premises. It is inspiring to meet, at the far side of the world from Ireland, such a thriving, energetic Irish community.
The Irish have played a key role in the shaping of modern New Zealand. We are proud of you and of the contribution which you have made to your adopted homeland.
The genuine, deep-seated affinity between Kiwi and Gael has been apparent to me throughout the course of my trip, and the personal connection, built on ties of kinship and shared experience lies at the heart of that.
New Zealand has long been a major centre for the global Irish family, as a result of its long history of providing a generous, tolerant home to our emigrants throughout the ages. The result of this common history is the ubiquitous Irish footprint in every aspect of New Zealand life. From the original administrative units of New Ulster and New Munster, right through to the city of Wellington, named for Arthur Wellesley, the Dublin-born first Duke of Wellington. Given the natural affection of the Irish for politics, it comes as little wonder that our imprint here seems deeper in that area than in almost any other area of New Zealand life. From New Zealand's beginning, right through to the present day, with Prime Minister Clark's grandfather an emigrant from Co. Armagh in 1910, the Irish connection - from both major traditions - is strong throughout, and one of which you should all be justifiably proud.
At the root of Ireland's rich contribution to New Zealand life is a sad story - emigration. For years, Ireland haemorrhaged its best and brightest, the very possibility of a better future, for want of our ability to sustain them. Times have changed now, however, and for the first time in 150 years, more people are moving to Ireland than are leaving, many of them our own original emigrants, returning to a land of promise, opportunity and confidence.
Twelve percent of the Irish workforce today was born abroad, an enormous change, which presents many challenges to our society. New Zealand, with its history of tolerance and sensitive integration, has much to teach us. You are living examples of its success.
And yet at the same time, you have maintained your strong Irish identity. When travelling, I love calling on Irish clubs and socieities. I really enjoy meeting with people who - no matter how distant their link to Ireland - are still fiercely proud of who they are and where they come from. You are our unpaid ambassadors, and you are doing a fantastic job. You also showcase brilliantly the ease with which you love two countries, two cultures, native home and adopted homeland loved differently but loved equally and each benefitting from such fine shared children.
The Irish Government is committed to the continued wellbeing of our Irish Family around the globe. As part of a programme of which will be extended to other New Zealand societies, the Minister for Foreign Affairs recently announced funding for the development by Auckland Irish Welfare of a community network for Irish citizens in New Zealand to provide advice and assistance to members of the Irish community who may be in need or distress. Although you are miles away, you are never distant in our thoughts, and this we hope is a tangible expression of our deep and abiding care for you.
I have relished the opportunity to spend some time with you. It's been a real pleasure, and I wish you all the best of success in the coming years.