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Sunday 28 May 2023 Dublin: 15°C
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# St Patrick's trips
Here's what Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald will be up to in the US next week
Leo Varadkar will meet the US president in the White House on Friday.

THE WEIGHT OF influence from American politicians like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton could help focus minds on getting the Windsor Framework over the line and the institutions in Northern Ireland back up and running. 

That’s the hope behind the scenes in Government circles heading into next week. 

The St Patrick’s Day festivities in the US this year are centred around the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which takes place in April.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said this week that a vote on the Windsor Framework will be held in Westminster within the next two to three weeks, upping the pressure on the DUP to make a call on it.

Prior to the announcement of a vote, the DUP stated that it would not make a decision on the framework until April at the earliest.

While Northern Ireland always features as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day junket to Washington, this year it will be top of the agenda.

There will be strong statements made by top US politicians who have long taken an interest in Northern Ireland politics, and who might be hoping to speed things along. 

Government sources stated that the issues of restoring the power-sharing institutions, the framework, along with the Good Friday Agreement will be key focuses on the trip. 

They said that the Americans have always been proud of their role in peace on the island,  and often like to point to Ireland as an example to other countries as to how diplomacy can work. 

Sources indicated that the expectation is that while the Irish Government is very much trying to not rock the boat with unionists in terms of the language it uses, US politicians might not mince their words so much. 

Both the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin are heading stateside next week. 

While both leaders will be lobbying hard on the issues in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féín president Mary Lou McDonald will also be in the US, travelling to New York and Washington DC where she will meet influential players on Capitol Hill.

Meeting at the White House

Varadkar will travel to Washington DC on Tuesday, with the annual St Patrick’s Day chinwag with the US President in the Oval Office to take place on Friday. 

Speaking about the Windsor Agreement, Biden said last month that it “is an essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened”.

“Northern Ireland can accomplish the extraordinary when its leaders work together in common cause. And I hope – as we all do – that Northern Ireland’s political institutions are soon back up and running. Those institutions embody the principle of devolved, power-sharing, representative government at the core of the Good Friday Agreement,” he added. 

Biden said he is “deeply proud” of the role the United States played to “help achieve, preserve, and strengthen that peace enshrined in the Agreement”. 

Getting a deal done and the power-sharing institutions will be a priority discussion during Varadkar’s visit to the White House next week. 

It is the first time Varadkar has returned to the White House since 2020, when he met the then US president Donald Trump. 

u-s-president-donald-trump-meets-with-irelands-prime-minister-taoiseach-leo-varadkar-in-the-oval-office-of-the-white-house-in-washington-u-s-march-12-2020-reutersleah-millis Alamy Stock Photo Donald Trump meets with Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House in 2020. Alamy Stock Photo

The Taoiseach will also meet with Hillary Clinton while in Washington, with both politicians taking part in an event at Georgetown University, titled: ‘Women at the Helm: The Unfinished Business of the Good Friday Agreement.’

The conference will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and spotlight the role that women played in forging and sustaining peace.

It will also reflect on the unfinished nature of the peace process and generate strategies for locking in peace for the next 25 years.

Hillary Clinton accompanied her husband Bill Clinton to Belfast in 1995, when he became the first serving US president to visit Northern Ireland.

Hillary also took a keen interest in peace-building on the trip. She stopped by the Lamplighter cafe on Belfast’s Ormeau Road during the visit where she met a group of Catholic and Protestant women involved in cross-community work.

Over the years, she has been a strong advocate for Northern Ireland and in October 2018, she received an Honorary Degree from the Queens University, where she is now chancellor, for her exceptional public service. 

Meanwhile, Martin will head to New York and Boston where he will take part in a number of events to mark the Good Friday Agreement. 

On Monday, Martin, members of the Northern Ireland political parties, and possibly the Clintons are due to attend an event hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York. 

He will also attend an event in Carnegie Hall on St Patrick’s Day where the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland will mark the Good Friday Agreement anniversary.

It has been mooted that Biden will pay a visit to Ireland in April, with dates likely to be confirmed during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the US.

Varadkar has a full schedule of events planned for the week, with the Taoiseach set to meet Irish and US businesses at an event on Wednesday, followed by the Ireland Funds dinner in the evening. 

Over the last couple of years, the dinner has proved newsworthy. In 2020, Varadkar was whisked out of the room during the event to be briefed on the escalating Covid situation back home.

The next day, he placed the country in lockdown in his now famous speech to the nation on the steps of Blair House, located across the road from the White House. 

taoiseach-leo-varadkar-at-blair-house-washington-dc-leaving-the-press-conference-where-he-announced-that-all-schools-colleges-and-childcare-facilities-in-ireland-will-close-until-march-29-as-a-resu Alamy Stock Photo Varadkar leaving the press conference in 2020 where he announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland would close. Alamy Stock Photo

When the $1,000 per plate dinner returned in 2022, there was a hope it might go off without a hitch, but it was Micheál Martin who was whisked out of the room this time having tested positive for Covid-19 just a couple of hours before the event.

It scuppered his chances of meeting Biden and resulted in him isolating in Washington DC for another week.

As part of the schedule this year, Varadkar will attend some cultural engagements on Thursday, before attending a St Patrick’s Day Reception at the Irish embassy.

While the shamrock ceremony and the Oval office meeting between the leaders usually takes place on the Thursday, it is understood that Biden preferred to have the customary celebrations on St Patrick’s Day this year.

The week’s itinerary will close out with a cultural showcase at the Kennedy Center.  

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