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Varadkar presenting the Shamrock Bowl to Donald Trump at the White House on 14 March 2019. UPI/PA Images

Varadkar to fly to Washington for Paddy's Day as 'slimmed down contingent of ministers' also set to travel

The number of ministers travelling will be pared back if there is no government.

LEO VARADKAR WILL travel to Washington for the annual St Patrick’s Day visit if no government has been formed by 5 March. 

Only a handful of ministers from the 32nd Dáil will travel around the world to represent Ireland for the annual festivities – but the roster of those travelling will likely not include those who lost their seats this month. 

Varadkar confirmed his travel plans last night after TDs failed to elect a new Taoiseach on the first day of the 33rd Dáil. 

He had previously indicated that he would also travel to Boston as part of the St Patrick’s Day visit stateside.

However, this element of the trip has yet to be confirmed, with the Taoiseach stating last night that the visit may well have to be cut short.

The caretaker Taoiseach, who tendered his resignation to President Michael D Higgins last night, will visit Capitol Hill and take the traditional trip to the White House to hand US President Donald Trump a bowl of shamrock. 

The situation is reminiscent of that which arose during government formation talks in 2016 when Enda Kenny flew to Washington to meet with then-US President Barack Obama for St Patrick’s Day.

Tourism Ireland, which organises the ministerial trips alongside the Department of Foreign Affairs, yesterday launched its Global Greening initiative which will see over 500 sites around the world going green this year to mark St Patrick’s Day. 

CEO Niall Gibbons said that having “ministers travel abroad at a time when Ireland is in the news for all the right reasons is a very positive thing for us”.

Speaking in the Dáíl last night, Varadkar said the government will continue to carry out its duty until a new government has been appointed.

“We do so as a continuing government with full executive authority,” he said, adding that he wanted to assure the Irish people that they still have a government that will “continue to work for you and your interests”.

I’ll travel to the White House and Capitol Hill. It will be a shortened trip this year in any case because if still in office I’ll need to return to the March meeting of the European Council which will be one of the most important in recent memory.

Varadkar flew to Brussels for today’s special European Council meeting to discuss the EU’s budget for the next seven years. Discussions he says are at “a critical stage”.

The next two Council summits will be on 26-27 March, and 18-19 June. 

By 1 July, the UK government must decide whether they’re extending the Brexit transition period, which is to last until 31 December 2020.

If the UK requests to extend the transition period, that request will most likely be voted on at the June European Council summit. If this is the case, it will be imperative at that stage to have a Taoiseach who has a mandate from the people to take a vote on the decision.

It is understood that if there is no government in place by St Patrick’s Day, a slimmed-down contingent from the 32nd Dáil will travel to key locations such as London and Brussels for the festivities.

In 2016, a caretaker government was also in place on 17 March. In addition to Enda Kenny travelling to Washington DC and only nine ministers were sent abroad. 

This is compared to over 33 ministers and ministers of state being sent on trips last year. 

- Additional reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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