Taoiseach Enda Kenny In Washington.
Photo by: Photocall Ireland
Breakfast at at the Vice President’s residence in the Naval Observatory on Friday morning seemed an unlikely time and place to start chins wagging.
The usual format is the Irish leader and Vice President of the day exchange polite pleasantries, crack a few jokes and we all chow down.
Enda Kenny was having none of it this year. He got to the point very quickly: his government is deeply interested and engaged in pushing for immigration reform.
It was to be the message of the day and a very welcome one for Irish activists seeking to help the 50,000 undocumented in the U.S.
Some might quibble with an Irish leader discussing American politics, but what are the frequent statements on Northern Ireland by the US but a similar intervention.
Kenny picked up on a point by VP Biden that immigration renewed America and stated that undocumented Irish people here could make a massive contribution to the US, if given a shot.
Previously, Irish leaders had confined such straight talk to Irish gatherings, never at the major occasions. Breaking china in the VP’s residence or at the White House was not a usual gambit, but boy was it refreshing for those of us used to anodyne words and cliched Heaney quotes. (Can we have a moratorium on those too?)
There is a new sheriff in town for Ireland in Ambassador Anne Anderson, who has thrown every effort behind the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and has created a newer aggressive policy.
Kenny was not finished after the breakfast. During the congressional Speaker’s luncheon, which I did not attend, Kenny let fly again.
A congressman told me he effectively embarrassed the House Speaker when he went off script and regretted the lack of action in the House.
Electric Enda was at it again later that day at the shamrock ceremony at the White House on Friday night .
He noted St.Patrick himself was an immigrant and the young Irish living in the US just want to have a fair shot.
“It is unfair. They want to earn their money. They want to pay their taxes,” the spokesman reported he said.
“They want to sing their national anthem and when they sing they want to sing in the land of the home of the free and the brave which they aren’t at the moment.”
Kenny said that President Obama wants Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson and other Irish leaders to get stuck in and make the Irish case. “There are a number of propositions before the legislature at the moment," Kenny said.
“The important thing, however, is that there would be a process of legalization of people who are here undocumented, that they could pay their taxes, contribute to American society, raise their families, and have the freedom to travel over and back,” said Mr Kenny.
At the shamrock ceremony in the East Room of the White House last night, the Taoiseach noted St Patrick himself was an immigrant when he came to Ireland.
“We know America will sort this out,” Kenny told the gathering.
By the end of the day even President Obama joined in, stating the Irish as well as all undocumented immigrants deserved a chance.
Obama said: “So the American Dream has always been the Irish-American Dream. And that’s why so many of you have been working with us to fix our broken immigration system.
"Under today’s laws, many of your parents and grandparents may not have made it here. And too many men and women who want to contribute to our economy are being denied that chance. "There’s no reason why we can’t do for this generation of immigrants what was done for a previous generation, to give them that chance."
There was lots of the usual blarney talk as well, but the message this year from Ireland was delivered with passion and purpose by Kenny.
“This is what we have waited for for decades," said ILIR President Ciaran Staunton, “the government and the Irish American community working together like they did to make the peace process happen and get Bill Clinton involved.