Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is leading a Congressional delegation to Ireland, and was presented tonight with the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage Award by the University Philosophical Society (The Phil) of Trinity College, Dublin.
The Phil, the world's oldest debating society, bestowed the award on Leader Pelosi at the inaugural meeting of their 327th session for her "excellence in public life and outstanding contribution to politics." The last individual to receive the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage Award at an inaugural ceremony was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2006.
Leader Pelosi highlighted the common democratic ideals shared by the United States and Ireland in her address to students, entitled "E Pluribus Unum -- Out of Many, One."
Below are the Leader's remarks as prepared for delivery:
"With pride and gratitude, I accept this generous appointment as an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College, Dublin. What a privilege it is to be counted in the ranks of so many extraordinary recipients for so many years and from so many walks of life.
"I'm also a proud graduate of another Trinity College -- Trinity College in Washington D.C. -- which means that when I was young, I learned the storied history of this institution.
"And when I told President Obama and Vice President Biden that I was coming to speak here today, the Vice President responded that in his Irish-American family, to say that you went to Trinity College, Dublin was the highest of all distinctions.
"Vice President Biden is just one of 36 million American bridges between Ireland and America -- people who trace and treasure their heritage from this small island -- which is also a vast continent of creativity, learning and laughter, and countless gifts to the world.
"I don't have Irish Grandparents but I do have Irish-American grandchildren -- Liam, Sean and Ryan who are here with their cousin Madeleine.
"Ireland has put an indelible stamp on America; Ireland is an emerald thread in the fabric of our national life.
"When we return to Washington, we will join President Obama and Vice President Biden to welcome Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the Capitol for our annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon. This happy tradition was inspired by another Irish-American: Speaker Tip O'Neill.
"We are so very proud of our Ambassador to Ireland, Daniel Rooney. He is a great patriotic American, who has honored his proud Irish roots with his creation of the American-Ireland Fund, the Rooney Prize for Irish literature, as well many activities on behalf of Irish-American relations.
"As a Californian, I'm particularly honored to be associated with a society in which Bishop George Berkeley was a leading light.
"He wrote the poem whose final stanza begins: "Westward the course of empire takes its way ' He was celebrating the movement of English-speaking civilization across the Atlantic, then across the prairies, the mountains, and the deserts to culminate in the creation of an American California in 1850 -- and the rise of San Francisco, the shining city on the Pacific hills, which is my home and which has sent me to the House of Representatives for a quarter of a century.
"I am heir to a tradition of public service. And in that sense, I feel at home here because in the truest sense that too is the mission of this society.
"Who could not be thoroughly impressed with the ways your members have seen, lived, lifted, challenged and changed the world. The roll ranges from the artist John Butler Yeats, and his son William Butler Yeats, to Oscar Wilde, who visited San Francisco in the late 1880s, and, of course, the Honorable Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland.
"The Phil represents the quest for truth through debates that are provocative and penetrating -- and with the respect of written and spoken word, famously witty and wise. No wonder that over the centuries, so many leading political and literary figures have joined your Thursday night sessions.
"And so tonight, with a sense of humility, I share my own reflections as an American legislator who believes that legislatures -- like philosophical societies -- are pre-eminently marketplaces of ideas.
"Across time and borders, the greatest legislators have possessed to the highest degree the philosophical temperament to blend pragmatism, loyalty, and idealism.
"The need for pragmatism speaks for itself. A law must serve the practical development of society. It must answer to real needs.
"The legislative process involves loyalty as well -- loyalty to constituents, loyalty to defining charters such as our Constitution, and loyalty to conscience.
"And idealism compels us to be stewards of the deepest hopes and dreams of a people, gathered into local communities, counties, states, and nation.
"As President Kennedy -- a fiercely proud Irish American --said in his 1962 State of the Union address: "The Constitution makes us all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage.'
"America's Founding Fathers had this same philosophical temperament -- to look ahead, to go beneath the surface, and to search out dangers and unintended consequences.
"They believed their great experiment in democracy declared not just a new nation, but "a new order for the ages,' and they inscribed this ideal on the Great Seal of the United States: "Novus ordo seclorum.'
"Reflect on the audacity of their vision and their optimism. They were certain of the success of their new order, not just for years, or for decades -- not just for their time, but for all time.
"It was not arrogance, but hope, that made them who they were -- and that made and still makes America, at its best, constantly reach higher. The Founders' confidence sprang from the conviction that each generation has in its power the ability to build a brighter, fairer, stronger future for the next.
"The driving dream of our American Republic, deliberately chosen at the start, is E Pluribus Unum, "from many, one.'
"At the dawn of America and the American idea, the architects of this new order had a vision of thirteen states -- each of them sovereign, with different social and cultural origins and local preferences -- that could overcome differences and suspicion to form one nation, one commonwealth, with liberty and justice for all.
"That is the heart of the American Dream. And it is in pursuit of that dream that throughout our 225 year history, people have flocked to our shores.
"Our founders envisioned America as a just and good place, a fair and efficient society, a land of aspiration and opportunity. Such was their intent; but their hope was also a horizon, because in the early days of our democracy, we were unequal, and in some cases, unfree. It took time and struggle to bring the nation closer to its ideal, and make it truer to its character. We are always imperfect -- and that is a summons to each generation of Americans to do all they can to form "a more perfect union."
"Our quest to reach that more perfect union must be served by increased leadership of women.
"But in society at large -- both in your country and mine -- more progress must be made. In our society there are many questions that have the same answer: How do we best grow our economy? How do we best strengthen our national security? How do we improve our government?
"The answer to all of these questions is to expand the leadership of women in both the private and public sectors.
"During Women's History Month and throughout the year, we encourage the empowerment of women in emerging democracies. All of our countries must honor that commitment.
"As the University Philosophical Society knows all too well, it takes time, care, and civility -- in the halls of Trinity College, Dublin, in the halls of Congress in Washington, DC, in the halls of Parliament -- to assure a lively, free, and civil debate -- one in which we are opponents, but not enemies; in which mutual respect can draw us together to seek and find the common good.
"The framers of the American constitution endowed the House of Representatives with an urgency born of a direct connection to the needs and wishes of the people. That is why we are elected every two years.
"And in times of great national crisis or contention, the House of Representatives as well as the Senate have known the inherent conflict in combining the sense of Unum, Oneness, with Pluribus, the Many.
"When that sense of Oneness was threatened in 1860, the Civil War had to be fought to reaffirm and re-establish the unity of the nation alongside the diversity of the states. And there have been other fateful struggles throughout our history that tested whether a nation as diverse as the United States could fulfill our destiny of oneness. By 1860, even our founders could not have envisioned the diversity of our country, even in their wisdom.
"We have had again and again to hear and heed the counsel of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who on taking office in a divisive time, told his fellow citizens: "Not every difference of opinion is a difference of principle.'
"Even in the midst of partisan difference, our Founders' principles call on us to make decisions on behalf of all the American people. For only then will the dream survive and the nation thrive -- and the world too be made more secure.
"One area of bipartisan agreement gave rise to a cause that was carried here to Ireland by both President Kennedy and President Reagan. And that cause of nuclear non-proliferation is as crucial today -- or even more so -- than it was in 1963 and 1984.
"Fifty years ago, President Kennedy praised Ireland for "sponsor[ing] that most vital resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, which opposed the spread of nuclear arms to any nation not now possessing them [and] urging an international agreement with inspection and controls.' And he pledged " the United States of America will do all in its power to achieve such an agreement and fulfill your resolution.'
"Twenty years later in Ireland, President Reagan spoke to that promise once more: "We've put forward, methodically, one of the most extensive arms control programs in history. We believe there can be only one policy, for all nations, if we are to preserve civilization in this modern age: a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.'
"Fifty years ago, President Kennedy, twenty years ago, President Reagan, President Clinton -- today President Obama and other world leaders strive to make our world a safer, more secure place by stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On that issue, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and our Presidents agree.
"An area of bitter division that has eluded bipartisan agreement in America for 100 years is the imperative of health care. The disagreement is not just a matter of opinion, but a matter of principle: in my view, health care is a right for all, not a privilege for the few.
"The enactment of health reform for all Americans is the most significant achievement of my Speakership; to put it mildly, it was controversial. While we sought common ground, it was clear we had to stand our ground. This was not a fight for the faint of heart -- for me or my colleagues.
"Because we won that fight for the American people:
* 86 million Americans have already received preventive health benefits under the law, which will not be in full effect until in 2014.
* For the first time in American history, millions of American women have access to free preventive health services.
* Today, no child in America is denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition and soon all Americans will have that same protection.
* And when the law is fully in effect, no longer being a woman will be considered a pre-existing medical condition.
"During the long, close contest, I reflected on the courage of so many in the House and the Senate. I was reminded of their courage when I recently saw this prayer by an African Bishop: "When I stand at last before the face of God, God will say to me, "show me your wounds." And I will say, "I have no wounds." And God will ask, "Was nothing worth fighting for?"'
"Health care was worth fighting for. And it was not without political cost. But the purpose of public office is not self-interest, but the national interest. We came not to keep a job, but to do a job.
"The health care law is a modern example of the innovative spirit embraced by our Founding Fathers more than two centuries ago.
"We honored the pledge of our Founders: to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
"Our Founding Fathers planted the seeds, but they could not have foreseen the full growth and span of America today. In the truest sense, each passage in our history has brought forth the next American Revolution.
"But the Founders nonetheless saw beyond their own years -- and with their philosophical temperament gave us the institutions and ideas that allow the continuing pursuit of liberty and justice for all. In all our diversity and multiplicity, despite any argument among us, we can be, we must be, committed to the fundamental standard: "E Pluribus Unum.'
"As the newest Honorary Patron of the world's oldest debating society, I salute all of you for sustaining and enlivening the indispensable values of reflection, rigorous dialogue, and mutual respect.
"You may designate me an Honorary Patron, but I come tonight as a student, ever hopeful that the exchange and testing of ideas will yield wisdom and understanding.
"In closing, I note that both Friedrich Engles and Winston Churchill have spoken here. Obviously, I disagree with one and greatly admire the other. But most of all, I admire the belief that you live out, week after week, century after century -- that full and even feisty discourse is a noble and essential pursuit.
"In point of fact, I am a Fresher at least here. So thank you for overlooking that -- and making me a Patron.
"Thank you for the great honor. I will cherish and display it in my office, wherever that may be. Please come and visit us and see it.
"Happy St. Patrick's Day."