Acting Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny visited President Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday morning and Vice President Joe Biden at his official residence to mark a day-long program of events in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
Noting that Kenny’s Fine Gael party had suffered major losses in the recent general election, Biden said, “I can assure you if you ran in America, you would get 80 percent of the vote.”
The audience had gathered at Biden’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. “He is still the most popular guy in the state, in his country and he lost,” said Biden. “He lost seats in the last election.”
Kenny said that Ireland had seen the rise of “anti-austerity and populist politics” and added that he believed that the current instability would be resolved soon.
“My belief is in the short period ahead we will be able to put together a stable government that will last the time ahead in the best interests of the country,” he said.
Guests at the breakfast included Secretary of State John Kerry, and Senators Pat Leahy of Vermont and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Biden noted it would be the final St. Patrick’s Day breakfast he’ll host, calling it “one of the real privileges” of his eight years in the office.
“Other than having Air Force Two,” he quipped. He said he hoped his successor continued the tradition.
Kenny later traveled to the White House where he met with President Obama, where the president celebrated his eighth and last St. Patrick’s Day reception as president, and spoke of “the incredible friendship” between U.S. and Ireland.
“We had a chance to discuss immigration, an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of the Irish people because they understand how important it’s been for Irish Americans, and it has given them a sense of compassion and sympathy and understanding about these issues generally.
“And I indicated to the taoiseach that we are going to continue to work as hard as we can to find opportunities to make sure that the United States of America continues to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
The president also spoke of the discussion the two leaders had about the peace efforts in the North.
“We had a chance to discuss the progress that’s been made in Northern Ireland with the Fresh Start Agreement, building on the previous agreements that have been made so that we can solidify the peace that is going to be so important for the people of Northern Ireland,” Obama said.
“And I’m very proud of the work that the United States – most recently through our envoy, Gary Hart – has done to help partner in that process. And I’ll have an opportunity to stop in and discuss some of these issues with the Northern Ireland leaders later today.”
Kenny cut short his original two-day program of U.S. events because he was eager to return to Ireland for potential discussions on forming a new government.
The decision to fly home a day early means Kenny was not present at the American Ireland Fund dinner on Tuesday evening, traditionally a key part of the St. Patrick’s Day program.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan stepped in for Kenny at events in Washington before traveling on to New York.
Flanagan told the press that it was crucial that Irish ministers still availed of the unique opportunity to promote Ireland.
Kenny was also guest on Tuesday at the annual luncheon hosted by the Speaker of the House, this year Paul Ryan. Obama made the trip to Capitol Hill for the lunch, as several other leaders including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and the actor Richard Gere, who was spotted by Irish Times Washington correspondent Simon Carswell.
Obama hosted his annual party for the Irish American community at the White House at 3:30 in the afternoon.