Speaking at the Friends of Ireland luncheon in Washington President Barack Obama called on the Republicans and Democrats to remember how President Ronald Regan and Tip O'Neill worked so well together.
The president addressed Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, the Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker Boehner, Ambassador Collins, members of the House and Senate along with guest from the Irish, Northern Irish and British governments at the St. Patrick's Day lunch. He began by saying that on March 17 "red, white and blue has a strong hint of green".
The president went on to describe the unique relationship that President Ronald Regan, a Republican, and Tip O'Neill, a Democrat had.
He described them as "two men of Irish stock, quick wit, and no small amount of fighting spirit. Tip’s and Gip’s differences were real; their beliefs and their battles were sincere. But so, too, were the bonds of affection and respect for one another. In fact, on the Speaker’s 70th birthday, President Reagan threw him a small party at the White House, where he offered up a toast. “Tip,” he said, “If I had a ticket to heaven and you didn’t have one, I would give mine away and go to hell with you.” The two later left the room arm in arm."
Obama explained that the two men had made an agreement that before six o'clock in the evening it was politics but that after six they could be friends. He said "They extended that safe zone to St. Patrick’s Day, setting aside this lunch each year so that folks in both parties could enjoy the good cheer and the good company. Our dear friend, Ted Kennedy, and others persuaded Taoiseach to join them. And the only hint of fighting in the air was the contest to out-do one another’s stories.
"President Reagan insisted that this lunch not be a place for policy battles –- but rather for good cheer and fellowship that so often is missing in Washington. “Our friendship,” President Reagan said of Tip O’Neill, “is testimony to the political system that we’re part of and the country that we live in -– a country which permits two not-so-shy and not-so-retiring Irishmen to have it out on the issues, rather than on each other or their countrymen.” I think that’s a sentiment that we should all strive to keep in mind -– whether Irish or not."
He went on to comment on Japans ongoing crisis and how internationally the reflex response has been to help them to rebuild and recover. Obama said these events should remind us that in the great scheme of thing our differences are small. He said "In the face of all that we have in common, our differences are insignificant. None of us are alone in this world. We need one another -- especially in times of turmoil and trial."
The President asked that as servants to the people politicians on both sides remember "to put the differences of the day aside; to seek common ground; to forge progress for the sake of this country that we love. Even before six o’clock."
He continued "today is a day for tens of millions of Americans of Irish descent to celebrate the tremendous influence that one small island with a big-hearted people has had on our country."
Having just announced that intends to visit Ireland this May Obama confirmed to the crowd that he had in fact traced his roots to Ireland. He said "Two years into my presidency, some are still bent on peddling rumors about my origins. So today I want to put all those rumors to rest. It is true my great-great-great-grandfather really was from Ireland… It’s true. Moneygall, to be precise. I can’t believe I have to keep pointing this out."
Speaking directly to Prime Minister Kenny he said "We are proud to call Ireland a friend on this St. Patrick’s Day, and on all the days of the calendar -– and we thank the Irish people for all that they’ve done to enrich the United States of America…. And may the friendship between our two countries grow ever greener."
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