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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives President Biden the all-important shamrock in the White House this evening.
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Patrick's Day in the White House lacks pizzazz but Biden is serious about his mission to Ireland

Northern Ireland was a key focus as the US President met with all five party leaders.

AFTER A HORRID two years with Covid scuppering the traditional White House visit by the Taoiseach on St Patrick’s Day, this year it went off without a hitch, but without much pizzazz. 

US President Joe Biden has been described as the “most Irish” president since JFK, so of course there was no shortage of mentions of the home country, talk of great great grandfathers, and poetic Irish quotes.

While there were expectations that a date of the trip to Ireland would be announced, the details were not forthcoming. 

“President, when are you coming to Ireland?,” reporters asked.

“Soon,” he said. When asked about the date, Varadkar replied that Biden would “announce that in due course”.

Will he be stopping by his ancestral home in Mayo? He’s holding his trip itinerary close to his chest, stating: “Don’t know yet.”

Biden is a low key operator but apart from the cringeworthy jokes, he placed the Good Friday Agreement at the centre of everything this week. 

“It’s good to have you back in the Oval Office, Taoiseach. It’s a big day in my grandparents’ household, our household, big day here. And I know a bigger day at home,” Biden said earlier today.

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,” said Biden, quoting Yeats. 

We’ve been great friends. You’ve been a great friend to the United States, and Ireland and the United States share great friendship and long, long traditions.

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Varadkar thanked Joe Biden for his support with Brexit, the leadership shown by the US with Ukraine, and promised a great trip next month when the US President comes to Ireland with “big crowds”. 

The last US president Varadkar met was Donald Trump, so the tone of today’s visit was very different to years gone by.

Speaking after their bilateral meeting, Varadkar said Biden had a “deep understanding” of issues that affect Ireland – something the Taoiseach could not say after his St Patrick’s Day visits to the White House when Trump was at the helm.

The House Speakers’ lunch on Capitol Hill hosted by Kevin McCarthy began with references to Irish ancestry which was carried on by Biden, who made some not so flattering remarks, such as:

“I’ve been to Ireland many times, but not to actually look up, to find my actual family members. And there are so many — and they actually weren’t in jail,” Biden said.

He also paid reference to a pub in Louth, where part of his family hails from:

“There’s still a place called Finnegan’s pub … that’s related to my family.”

“I’m the only Irishman you ever met, though, that’s never had a drink, so I’m OK. I’m really not Irish,” he added. 

While there was plenty of paddywhackery references, there was a serious tone to the lunch. 

For the second time this week, the attempted assassination of Detective John Caldwell was referenced, this time by the US president who praised Northern Ireland’s political leaders standing together following the attempted murder of the police detective.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell remains in a critical but stable condition after being shot multiple times at a leisure centre in Omagh, Co Tyrone last month.

Following the murder bid, senior figures from the main Stormont parties met together with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. Afterwards, they stood side by side along with Byrne to condemn the attack and express solidarity with the police.

Referencing the incident in his speech on Capitol Hill, Biden said such a display was very important, stating that it was “confirming your commitment” for the future. Biden said work must continue to protect peace and stability. 

For the first time ever, the five Northern Ireland party leaders met with the US president today – a sign of the moves being made to get power sharing institutions back up and running.

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Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald was sat at the same table as DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson at the lunch in the afternoon.

Looking down towards the party leaders, Biden spoke candidly enough about what he’d like to see come to pass. 

The Windsor Agreement is a “vital vital step” that’s going to help ensure all people realise their full potential, said Biden. “I think we have a chance to make a difference,” he added.

“There’s no reason why we can’t find find common ground,” he said. 

Speaking at the traditional shamrock ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Varadkar hinted at the powerful weight the words of the White House can hold:

“At especially difficult or fragile moments in the search for peace, successive Presidents – from both sides of the aisle – stepped in with words of encouragement and hope, a hand on the shoulder or a gentle shove in the right direction.”

While the Good Friday Agreement was up front and centre, there were some lighter moments too at the shamrock ceremony. 

Biden welcomed his distant cousin Rob Kearney to the White House and apologised to anyone in the room who may be cheering for England tomorrow. 

Biden’s third cousin, podcaster Laurita Blewitt, could also be seen in the room laughing along with her husband Joe Brolly. The President’s Irish connections clearly on display.

The White House festivities were ended with a performance from Niall Horan, whose new album ‘The Show’ is out soon. As another Mullingar man might say though, this wasn’t about him, it was unmistakably Joe’s Show.

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