Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day officially with United States President Barack Obama today. The Irish leader attended breakfast with Vice President Joe Biden, followed by a bilateral meeting with the President in the Oval Office, as well as a lunch hosted by the Speaker of the House of Representative John Boehner.
Kenny attended a breakfast hosted by Joe Biden, in his official residence at the Naval Observatory. This year, the Irish leader's trip to Washington to mark St. Patrick’s Day was delayed as it clashed with a State Visit by British leader David Cameron.
The Vice President joked this morning, “We should do this every year; celebrate St Patrick's Day twice!”
Guests at the breakfast included the crème de la crème of Irish America, including Senator Patrick Leahy, Vicki Kennedy, Admiral Mike Mullen, Gen Martin Dempsey, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and the President's counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan.
Biden said that all the Irish leader need to know about American Irish is “our families told us that we Irish are bound together by common values of family, courage and hope, always hope. We found ourselves in situations many times of needing hope."
Turning to the Taoiseach he said, "The thing I love about you old buddy is you're always optimistic. You're always optimistic. That's the Irish." He then offered a toast, "May you all look back on your past with as much pleasure as you look to the future."
The Taoiseach responded, saying, “The situation in Ireland has changed from just a year ago. We have turned a new direction. By decisiveness and clarity the government has given a definition to the horizon and the implementation of our plans to deal with the public finance problems, play our part as European Union members, make the economies of Europe grow."
Biden had spoken of the 18th century Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone during past meetings; Mr Kenny said, "You said he embodied the most noble virtues. He was a Protestant who founded the United Irishmen. He had nothing to gain, but he sought to relieve the oppression of the Catholics. He gave his life for the principles of civil rights."
Kenny presented Biden with a green leather bound copy of a letter that Wolfe Tone wrote to the French minister of war in 1796, saying he was returning to Ireland "to fight for my country".
After breakfast, Kenny attended a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House. Following the meeting the leaders released their remarks.
Obama said, “It is my great pleasure to welcome once again Taoiseach, Mr. Kenny, who has done, I think, extraordinary work during a very difficult time. Over the last several years, we've been able to strike up a friendship. And you'll notice that even though technically it is not St. Patrick's Day, we like to prolong the party around here. Technically, most of the Americans who celebrate St. Patrick's Day aren’t Irish anyway -- (laughter) -- so we shouldn’t go on technicalities.
“I want to thank the Taoiseach, his lovely wife, and all of the people of Ireland for the extraordinary hospitality they showed Michelle and I when we had the chance to travel there recently. It was a magical day. It was too short, so I provided assurances that we will be returning. But the warmth and the goodwill that was expressed towards us I think was really representative of the deep bonds that exist between the United States and Ireland -- bonds that are almost unique among two countries around the world.”
The President continued saying both countries' current priorities were to get their economies moving and put people back to work. He said, “It is important that both the people of Ireland and the American people understand the extraordinary benefits of trade, commerce, and investment between our two countries. We are, obviously, an extraordinary contributor to investment in Ireland, and that's something of great importance to the people of Ireland. Conversely, Irish businesses invest and employ huge numbers of Americans as well.”
Obama went on to express his confidence in Ireland’s ability to get moving again and to thank the people of Ireland for the contribution to “peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts all around the world”.
He ended by saying “We are always pleased to see you here. And the expressions of affection that I experienced when I was in Ireland I'm sure you are experiencing in return while you are here, because the American people have just an extraordinary affinity and fondness for the Irish people. And we are looking forward to you having a very productive visit, and we look forward to going over to Capitol Hill where even when it's not St. Patrick's Day, everybody claims to have a little bit of Irish roots.”
Kenny reciprocated by thanking his hosts in Washington and commenting on the constructive meeting they have had.
The Irish leader said, “We referred to the possibility of an opportunity to travel again to Ireland, and the President has confirmed that in due course. Obviously, he's got a little matter to attend to here in America between this and that. But I just wanted to say to you that it's a reestablishment, if you like, and a redefining of the absolutely unique relationship that there is between Ireland and the United States.
“I pointed out to President Obama since my visit here to Chicago, his home city, the extraordinary outpouring of enthusiasm and exuberance in the streets of Chicago on Saturday, and my visit to Notre Dame in South Bend, and the opportunities that we had in New York to meet with Irish American business, with American investment business, the Ireland Investment Day at the stock exchange.
And here in Washington for the past two days has been simply outstanding. And it confirms my belief that the reputation of our country has been restored internationally, and that the unique relationship that we've always had with the United States for so many reasons is exceptionally strong. And I told the President of the great work being done by Ambassador Rooney, but also that Ireland respects America for what it does, both in our own context, but also to keep the world a safer place for the hundreds of millions of people who look for real leadership in this regard.”
The party then continued on to a lunch held in the Rayburn Room, in the Capitol, where they were greeted by David O’Leary singing “Oh Danny Boy”.
During the meal, the President sat next to House Speaker John Boehner, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was seated at another table.
As the party emerged from lunch to return to the White House, bagpipes and drums lined the steps.
The day’s festivities will continue into the evening and Washington celebrates what Kenny has dubbed “St. Patrick’s Week”.