Phew! The Office of the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) on Thursday confirmed a St. Patrick’s Day invitation to the Trump White House, referring to the shamrock ceremony between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Trump on March 17 as an “opportunity” to discuss our “priorities and concerns."
The annual St.Pat's Day ceremony, followed by a reception for the Irish American community, has been in place for every president since Bill Clinton started the tradition in 1993. The advent of a new president is always a fraught time for the Irish until he agrees to an event.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed on Tuesday that a formal invite had been extended to Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. The taoiseach traditionally makes an official visit to the US President around St. Patrick’s Day to engage in the shamrock ceremony as a symbol of the close ties between the countries. The presentation dates back as far as the 1950s to the presidency of Harry Truman, but the White House reception was begun with President Clinton.
This year, however, the taoiseach has faced criticism in Ireland for his congratulations to the 45th President and has been called upon to not attend the annual ceremony, despite the importance it is said to hold for Irish relations and business in the US.
In the lead-up to the presidential election, Kenny was publicly critical of candidate Trump, referring to the language used in his campaign as “racist and dangerous.” While not expressing regret for his previous words, the taoiseach did later say that his words were said in the “heat of battle” and that Ireland would be happy to work with the elected president.
Kenny was the first EU leader Trump spoke to after his election, a move that was said to have a slight to British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is believed Rudy Giuliani and the Irish Embassy set up the first call.
While the possibility of the taoiseach being present in the White House on March 17 was discussed during the 10-minute congratulatory phone call, the invite was not formally announced until this week. Spicer, himself an Irish-American who wore emerald green pants imprinted with shamrocks last St. Patrick’s Day, referred to the event during a press briefing on Tuesday as “an issue that’s near and dear to me.”
“I was asked about the status of the invitation of Prime Minister Kenny, from Ireland, to visit the United States on St. Patrick’s Day and I’m pleased to announce that the President has extended that invitation,” Spicer said.
“It happened, actually, during the transition period [from Obama to Trump administrations] and we look forward to the Prime Minister attending.”
The taoiseach’s office has since welcomed the offer, although Keny himself has not spoken of it.
"The St. Patrick’s Day events provide a valuable opportunity for the Government to discuss, at the very highest levels of US politics, our priorities and concerns,” a spokesperson for the taoiseach told the Irish Examiner.
"The relationship between Ireland and the US is complex and multi-layered. The government’s priority is to ensure that the long-standing relationship between Ireland and the US is protected in the interests of Irish citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. The taoiseach looks forward to visiting the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The official announcement came just a day before President Trump began to act on the anti-immigration policies that attracted many supporters to his side while campaigning but continue to strike fear into the heart of millions of other Americans and immigrants, both legal and undocumented.
On Wednesday, he signed an executive order that readies the ground for a wall on the Mexican border. He also threatened to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities that harbor the undocumented. An estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish are believed to be living in America and the Dáil [Irish Parliament] heard how Taoiseach Kenny must work on behalf of these people and on behalf of the cause for equality in any dealings with Trump.
“We need to hear the taoiseach raise a voice for equal treatment of all irrespective of race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald stated, highlighting the concerns of Irish immigration organizations in the US.
Earlier this month the left-wing Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit party held a press conference during which they called on the taoiseach to avoid Washington this St. Patrick’s Day.
Referring to Kenny’s previous words on Trump being racist and dangerous, AAA-PBP TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said it was an “absolutely accurate statement’.’
“He should not go to Washington and essentially play the stage Irishman and legitimize what Donald Trump represents,’’ Mr. Boyd Barrett added, although he accepted that the Irish state should engage in “business-like” meetings with the Trump administration.
“It would be a very powerful statement to say he would not offer a symbolic gesture of friendship when Trump has set out such a dangerous and divisive agenda,’’ he added, referring to Trump as “the vile face of the most right-wing part of the political establishment.’’
An online petition was also started this week by a New York resident calling on Taoiseach Kenny to boycott the shamrock ceremony this year as a sign of respect to Native Americans. Citing the help and funds provided to the Irish by the Choctaw Nation during the Great Hunger the petition asks for the taoiseach to remain at home in solidarity with those protesting at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
“In solidarity with the the Choctaw People, who fed our own ancestors during the Great Hunger and who are presently participating protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, we ask the taoiseach Enda Kenny to stay home in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day and not to offer a bowl of shamrocks to Donald Trump,” the petition reads.
Three other online petitions started earlier this year requesting a boycott.
Should Taoiseach Enda Kenny refuse to visit the White House this March 17 or should the tradition continue throughout President Trump’s term in office? Let us know your thought in the comments section, below.