Irish consul general discusses Irish-American relations

Ireland's Consul General Shane Stephens visited USC to talk about the relationship between Ireland and the U.S. on Dec. 3 in the Russell House. 

Hosted by the Irish Heritage and History student organization, the consul general's visit included discussion on ties between the U.S. and Ireland and the special relationship they share. Stephens, who has been the consul general in Atlanta for three years, said that the two regions have many similarities. 

“I’m going to focus in particular on the links between Ireland and South Carolina,” Stephens said. “That’s a pretty fascinating relationship, because this is one of the places in the Southeast where you have the highest percentage of people with Irish or Scotch-Irish heritage. So that speaks to this historic relationship that Ireland has had for a long time here.”

Stephens said the relationship between Ireland and the U.S. continues to grow in modern times. More recently, Irish companies have increased their involvement in the U.S. markets by creating new headquarters all over the nation — including some in the state of South Carolina. 

“Today the relationship is wonderful and strong but quite different,” Stephens said. “Today, very few Irish people are moving across to South Carolina. But, we are bringing across our companies. Thousands of people in South Carolina are now employed by Irish companies.” 

It has been more than 300 years since the first major migration of the Irish to the U.S. Stephens said that this relationship is special and that he feels lucky to be on the forefront of these relations. 

“It’s really something special for an Irish diplomat to work in the United States. In fact, I had to fight off a lot of my colleagues ... to get this job,” Stephens said. “Ireland is really well-known and loved in the United States ... we have had a big impact here and we still have a big impact. A lot of Irish-Americans are very active in politics.”

In attendance at the event were members from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, America’s oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization according to its website, as well as USC students. 

“I think I’m going to learn the difference between the economy and stuff like that from the U.S. and Ireland,” fourth-year retail management student Claire Chitwood said. “I guess learn more about the differences between European economies and the U.S.” 

Acknowledging the presence of a large business school on campus, Stephens said that there is a strong economic link between the U.S. and Ireland.

“It is significant that Ireland has been the fastest growing economy in the European Union over the last four years," Stephens said. "There’s already a strong economic link between Ireland and the West."

The main point of Stephens' discussion was the importance of the relationship of the U.S. and Ireland and the impact it has on the economies of the two countries. Going forward, he believes the relationship will only become stronger. 

“I think that’s probably going to become even stronger, because unfortunately, our neighbors the United Kingdom are leaving the European Union," Stephens said. "That’s going to leave us as one of the main gateways to the European Union for Americans and American companies. And that’s partially because we’re about to become the only English speaking and the only common law jurisdiction in the whole of the European Union.” 

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