Saying that she would prefer to hear an Irish song joyfully praising nanotechnology rather than a traditional, sentimental ballad lamenting separation, Ireland’s president, Mary McAleese, thanked U.S. companies for investing in her country during remarks to the Rotary Club of Atlanta April 30.
“The United States has been pivotal, providing the largest source of inward direct investment,” she told the packed luncheon meeting at the Loudermilk Center downtown. “One-quarter of our manufacturing jobs are due to U.S. companies.”
Ms. McAleese made no bones about her preference for a wealthy over a poor nation. “While prosperity eluded our parents and grandparents, we now have it,” she said proudly.
“Ten to 20 years ago our people were poor and underachieving,” she added, contrasting Ireland’s current economic advances, while purring about its newly found strength as “a Celtic tiger.”
Among the immediate benefits of wealth, she cited that Ireland no longer had to export “its best and brightest.”
“For years the biggest export we had were our people,” she said. But an average annual economic growth rate of 7.5 percent, she added, has reversed the trend to such an extent that during the past five years Ireland has absorbed many immigrants.
“Ten percent of Ireland’s population labor force are immigrants,” she added. “Where there is opportunity, people flourish.”
Ms. McAleese underscored the importance of providing universal education as important in the transformation of Ireland’s economy. She also pointed to its comparatively low corporate tax rates and membership in the European Union as causes of the country’s economic turnaround.
And she praised the benefits of collaboration and included in her visit tours of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.
“Everybody benefits through collaboration,” she said, citing Georgia Tech and Emory’s joint department of biomedical engineering bringing together the expertise of medical researchers at Emory’s medical school and the engineering faculty at Georgia Tech.
Last year Georgia Tech established a presence in Athlone, Ireland, where it is developing research programs and collaborations with Irish industry.
Georgia Tech Ireland is an initiative of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which conducts some $140 million in research and development, according to the university, for industry, government and academic institutions across the world. It receives support from IDA Ireland, the Irish government’s economic development agency.
Georgia Tech Ireland is to focus on four technology areas that mirror Ireland’s research strengths including digital media, radio frequency identification, biotechnology and energy.
Ms. McAleese also toured Emory University’s Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library, which Emory claims houses the finest collection of Irish literature outside of Ireland.
The collection includes the papers of Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney and poets Thomas Kinsella and Medbh McGuckian. The library also has original works of Irish novelist Edna O’Brien.
She said that the Irish now feel at home equally in Athens, Ga., as Athens, Greece, because of the confidence they derived from their cultural heritage and their rising economic status in sharp contrast to the past when they felt as if they were “second class citizens and underdogs.”
Ms. McAleese is currently in her second term as president and has promoted improved ties between Unionist and National Irish forces under the theme of “building bridges.”
She said that Ireland had been transformed by “using pens instead of plows and using brains instead of crowbars,” and spoke of her respect for the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. promoting nonviolence.
She was accompanied on the visit by Noel Fahey, Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S.; Niall Burgess, Ireland’s consul general in New York and Marina Donohoe, chief executive officer of Enterprise Ireland, an economic development agency and her husband, Martin McAleese.
Earlier in the day, she visited the exhibit of Dr. King’s papers at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.
Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Emory University – Elaine Justice (404) 727-643
Georgia Tech Research Institute