Taoiseach Enda Kenny has predicted Ireland will free itself from the bailout and regain its economic sovereignty as early as next year.
As Chicago baked in record temperatures for mid-March yesterday, Mr Kenny brought his feelgood, optimistic message about Ireland to the city’s parade.
“We are open for business,” declared the Taoiseach from the viewing-stand, repeating a mantra he has been delivering in meetings and speeches in American’s third-largest city over the past two days.
“Our country is the way back. We’ve had difficult times, we’ve made a number of difficult decisions but our country is headed in the right direction. There’s now confidence and belief in ourselves and we know where our path lies.”
“We expect in our own time, before the end of 2013, to exit from the programme we are in and retrieve our economic sovereignty.”
Ireland received an €85 billion bailout from the troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund in November 2010.
It is expected the State will return to financial markets some time next year but the level of support it may require is not clear at this stage.
Mr Kenny was hosted at the parade by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who paid tribute to the Irish emigrants who built Chicago “brick by brick” in earlier centuries.
Earlier, Mr Emanuel presented Mr Kenny with a gift of a book and recordings by Bruce Springsteen, signed by the singer, and carrying the inscription: “To the Taoiseach, from a Jersey Irishman on my dad’s side – The Boss”.
The two politicians, along with Illinois senator Dick Durban and other politicians walked the mile-long route of the parade in downtown Chicago.
Wielding a black shillelagh, wearing a green tie and sporting a sprig of shamrock brought from Ireland, a relaxed Mr Kenny shook hands and posed for photos with well-wishers.
Amid the marching bands and Irish dancers, there were floats supporting immigration reform and the election campaigns of various Irish-American candidates for office.
At City Hall, the Taoiseach presented Mr Emanuel with a sprig of shamrock and declared his pleasure to be in a city which has given sanctuary to immigrants over many years.
Mr Emanuel said St Patrick’s Day paid tribute to the contribution of Irish immigrants to Chicago, but added that the festival also marked an opportunity to remember the deep roots of all immigration to America and the way immigrants “renew the American dream”.
Mr Kenny has invited Mr Emanuel, who like the Taoiseach is a keen cyclist, to participate in the Ring of Kerry tour this summer.
“He tells me he’s a serious cyclist. Well, we’ll be serious with him – at least the hills will,” quipped Mr Kenny.
In an eve-of-St Patrick’s Day speech in Chicago last night, Mr Kenny invited Irish emigrants to come home next year to help Ireland build its new, post-bailout world.
“You’re all welcome to the hooley that’s going to take place all through 2013 as our country celebrates its return to economic sovereignty and building a new world,” he said in reference to The Gathering, a large marketing campaign launched this week by Government ministers to encourage the diaspora to holiday in Ireland next year.
Mr Kenny was given an enthusiastic reception by over 500 diners at the Irish Fellowship Club, where he began his upbeat assessment by saying: “We’re on the way back”.
“Confidence is returning to our economy, and deposits flowing back into the banks. Our people view the world very differently than they did in the days of the so-called Celtic Tiger. They have a sense of values, commitment, focus and community in relation to where the future is.”
The Taoiseach recalled the rapturous reception accorded his political predecessor WT Cosgrave as leader of Cumann na nGaedhael when he addressed the fellowship club in 1928.
Mr Kenny said he was very happy that Chicago had retained its “sanctuary status” since then by staying open to immigration from other lands.