Independence Day 2017 Speech

  • Release Date: 04/07/2017


Speech by Chamber President James O’Connor


American Chamber of Commerce Ireland

Independence Day Lunch, 4 July, 2017


US ChargĂ© d’Affaires Reece Smyth, Board and Members of the Chamber, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure as President of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland to welcome you all to our annual Independence Day lunch.   Happy Independence Day everyone!

Traditionally in the US, July 4 is a day marked by fireworks, fun, parades and pageantry. It is a date marked in history by the US Declaration of Independence, a document signed by, amongst others, a number of very forward thinking Irishmen!

Today we honour and celebrate another inspirational forward thinking leader. Someone who symbolises in a very tangible manner, the strength of the relationship between Ireland and the United States.

She is someone who demonstrates through action what it truly means to “give something back” to society.

The person, of course, that I am referring to is Loretta Brennan Glucksman, a worthy recipient of the Kennedy-Lemass Medal. 

This medal was introduced last year and honours US leaders of Irish heritage who have helped strengthen the Irish-US relationship

Today, we are recognising Loretta’s unique contributions in 3 key areas:

1.   Her leadership in education and skills

2.   Her work as a champion of the creative arts, and their powerful contribution to commerce and to communities

3.   And her work removing barriers that divide us and deepening the bonds that connect us

What is so fitting is that these areas resonate fully with the American Chamber strategy – we are all working together, united by a mutual desire for a long and lasting positive impact on Ireland’s economy and society.

And in the context of a new Taoiseach and a new Cabinet, we look forward to meaningful early engaging dialogue on these strategic priorities.

Education and Skills

If you’ve heard me speak before you will know how strongly these 3 themes resonate with me personally.

Let me start with education and skills. The Chamber Board remains dedicated to driving forward our agenda in this area.  Because ability to retain our attractiveness as a location for FDI is reliant on an educational system that continues to produce the best and brightest graduates.

Our children need to be ready for jobs that haven’t been invented yet. And a key part of that is ensuring that our young people are equipped with the skills which helps them participate in a digital world. Regardless of the career path they may take, the ability  to harness digital technology will help them to do more and achieve more. 

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity Loretta and her late husband Lew have shown over many years – countless students throughout Ireland have benefitted from world class learning environments. Loretta’s commitment has created the foundations upon which the next generation will build their futures. 

Many of the leaders joining us here today come from Higher Education Institutions helped by this extraordinary donation of time, energy and resources.

I believe that Loretta’s ambition for and her faith in our education sector must be matched by all its stakeholders –  Government, industry, students and civil society.

We know education is the key to accelerating our country’s economic potential. We support the Government’s ambitious Action Plan for Education – it’s urgent and it’s vital that Ireland continues to produce the talented, flexible graduates it needs to fill the high skilled roles available in our member companies and in our economy.

Our vision is an Ireland that is doing everything possible to ensure STEM subjects get the right level of focus at Primary, Secondary and Third Level.

Our vision is a learning experience that encourages teamwork, creativity & innovation, problem solving and simplifying the complex. We must remove all barriers – or perception challenges – especially those preventing girls from pursuing STEM subjects.

Our vision is an Irish talent pool fit-for-purpose for a data-centric future; a workforce comfortable handling data and complex scenarios, capable of making informed decisions  and able to use enhanced problem-solving skills.

If we are to win the battle for new FDI we need those digital skills to unleash innovation in a 21st century data-driven economy. This is a must regardless of what industry or sector our graduates choose to work in.

And if we are to engender a spirit of innovation and agility in what we teach our students and how we teach it, we must consider for a moment the work you and your teams are doing. How has it changed in the past ten years?  Dramatically right? Now consider the pace and level of change that has occurred in our second level system over the same timeframe.

However, we do warmly welcome the inclusion of computer science as a Leaving Cert subject from 2018 and the inclusion of coding on the Primary maths curriculum. We look forward to seeing these changes implemented.

If Ireland is to remain a global leader for innovation and talent, we must stay true to the leadership and passion Loretta has shown for our education system.

To quote President Kennedy:

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”


Contribution of the Creative Arts

Loretta is also renowned for the remarkable support that she has given to the creative arts including initiatives such as the Ireland Funds Literary Award to celebrate our brightest literary talent, to Music Generation, a collaboration with U2, which has inspired over 36,000 young people to sing or pick up an instrument.

Our guests today include representatives from some of the many cultural bodies and institutions Loretta has championed.

She has long recognised what Philip King, who joins us here today, often reminds us  -  

“Where culture goes, commerce follows”.

Her commitment to the arts; her ability to drive awareness of the important role culture plays in enriching lives and sparking innovation. All this provides the seeds of thought that can sprout into transformative partnerships with the business community.

The Chamber recognises the value of moving the focus from purely STEM to STEAM. We must bring the A of arts into the traditional discussions on science, technology, engineering and maths.

We must tap into the unique creative talents of Irish people – driving and inspiring innovation and further strengthening a key differentiator for Ireland. We must also, I believe, make the world of science and technology far more accessible to ALL people regardless of background or circumstance.

Our young people must be encouraged to look at career options in STEAM– building a pipeline of talent – enriching the arts and science by marrying the power of emerging digital capabilities like AR, VR, and AI to traditional artistic pursuits – making creative outputs themselves more accessible to more people. And further powering Ireland’s global reputation as an innovation nation.

Our Chamber is proud to support Philip King’s Other Voices and the Ireland’s Edge Festival. We want to bring curious minds together from all walks of life: the creative arts, education, policy making and business ever closer to explore how the fusion of the worlds can occur. We believe this will lead to extraordinary results.

A belief in the power of the Creative Arts is further evidenced by the Government’s inspiring Creative Ireland initiative and the US Embassy’s Creative Minds programme.

Removing Barriers / Deepening Connections

Finally, I want to recognise Loretta’s role in helping break down barriers between communities. She has done this by finding ways to connect and deepen bonds and friendships. The history of this island over recent decades has been the story of finding things that unite us and do not divide us. Loretta has demonstrated this by being a steadfast advocate for integrated education in Northern Ireland. She has been a profoundly important figure in giving people a more hopeful future.

Her accolades are numerous - now distinguished Chair of the Ireland Funds, for over 18 years, Loretta has seen contributions disbursed in excess of 300 million euros for peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development on this island. She has worked tirelessly to deepen the ties between our two countries.  In the spirit of those great leaders, Kennedy and Lemass, she embodies the idea of our kinship.


Turning to our global environment, I would like to again quote President John F Kennedy, on Independence Day in Philadelphia in 1962, when he said


‘But I will say here and now, on this Day of Independence, that the United States will be ready for a Declaration of Interdependence, that we will be prepared to discuss with a united Europe the ways and means of forming a concrete Atlantic partnership, a mutually beneficial partnership between the new union now emerging in Europe and the old American Union founded here 175 years ago’,

The advances and interconnections in the world we live in today have been remarkable. They are driven by technology, free movement of talent and data and huge economic and societal advances. Ireland has successfully positioned itself at the heart of this deep transatlantic relationship. As a stepping stone to Europe, we have harnessed, nurtured and deepened the interest, the commitment and the shared cultural connections of the Irish American community.

We have played a central role in connecting the globe for a long time through people, and through infrastructure. To give you an example, in 1858 the  first Transatlantic Cable was laid between the US and Europe – landing at Valentia in Kerry. Now nearly 160 years later, we continue to play a central role in driving connections.

Data in every form – storage, sharing, analysis and management has continued to increase – helping to transform how we live, work and play and how we connect to the global community.

This presents a further opportunity for Ireland to strengthen our competitive proposition in this global, connected, interdependent world.  The scale of this opportunity was recently demonstrated at the Government hosted and Chamber supported, Data Summit held two weeks ago in the Convention Centre which I personally participated in.

And amidst all this opportunity, lies risks.   

Brexit will bring changing relationships between global trading blocks and the threat of protectionism. We are in no doubt this could cause real harm to the extraordinary transformation that has occurred since President Kennedy set out his powerful vision.

We will not be afraid or disheartened, we will continue to take our lead from inspiring individuals such as Loretta who battled constantly to find common ground and shared interests. All the while carrying out work in the background to dismantle the barriers – and remove or mitigate the challenges.  

And we will make our voice clearly heard on the global stage - in London, Brussels and Washington. We will continue to deliver a message that increasing connectivity, deepening alliances and taking a shared approach to challenges in world – is in all our interests.

On your behalves – the Chamber is committed to raising our voice to strongly deliver and reinforce those messages.

So, let’s celebrate Independence Day today. Let’s celebrate that however much each one of us works independently – whether in a US multinational, a cultural institution, or an academic organisation or as an elected official – it’s our combined strength of experience, our expertise, our amazing talent and our passion - that really makes us stronger.


Let us pull together and show we have the strength to help improve the quality of life for our people – in Ireland. In the US. And across the globe.


Let us toast independence

Let us celebrate

Let us recognise the value of inter-dependence & our connectedness.

Together we are stronger.


Thank You Very Much.