Blog: Taoiseach speaks Irish in the White House as he praises Biden for US help on Brexit and Ukraine –

Irish was spoken in the Oval Office for the first time as Leo Varadkar used our first national language at his meeting with US President Joe Biden.

t came ahead of the traditional shamrock presentation this evening in the White House, at which Niall Horan performed for the assembled guests.

Speaking this evening, President Joe Biden stressed the need to find common cause in Northern Ireland as he expressed hope of a return to devolved government at Stormont.

In a speech at the traditional St Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony at the White House, Mr Biden reflected on the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Now it’s incumbent on all of us to continue to foster that peace and continue to find common cause so that our work may continue to bear fruit for generations to come,” he said.

The President, who was presented a bowl of shamrock by the Taoiseach, reiterated his support for the new EU/UK deal to resolve the impasse over post-Brexit trade that has led to the collapse of devolution in Belfast.

“Taoiseach we both agree that the recently announced Windsor Framework is an important step,” he said.

“We had a long discussion with the Prime Minister of Great Britain about that a week ago in California. That’s going to preserve and strengthen the Good Friday Agreement. In the past few weeks I’ve shared my support for the framework with the European Commission president as well, president (Ursula) von der Leyen and the Prime Minister says he’s going to continue to push.”

Earlier in the day, speaking in Irish as Seachtain na Gaeilge drew to a close on St Patrick’s Day, the Taoiseach thanked President Biden for the USA’s help over Brexit, for its support of Ukraine, and also referred to excitement in Ireland over his forthcoming visit.

He then repeated his comments in English and elaborated on them, saying Irish people were already looking forward to Mr Biden’s arrival and said there would be large crowds. “We would love to see you,” he said.

It is believed to be the first time a Taoiseach has spoken in Irish in the Oval Office.

“I really want to thank you for your help and support and understanding for our position on Brexit in recent years, it really made a difference and we’ve got to a good place now, I think, with the Windsor Framework, where we can have an agreement that lasts which is important for Northern Ireland, and also important for British, Irish and European relations,” Mr Varadkar said.

President Biden spoke in a low voice and said Ireland had always been a good friend of the United States. He then quoted WB Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”


US President Joe Biden meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House. Photo: PA US President Joe Biden meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House. Photo: PA

US President Joe Biden meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House. Photo: PA

US President Joe Biden meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House. Photo: PA

But there was no further information from the president as to where he would go and what he would do on his Irish trip next month as the press opportunity lasted only two minutes.

President Biden appeared low-key in attitude, after returning from San Diego earlier this week where he had hosted British prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Speaking in Irish following President Biden’s remarks, the Taoiseach said: “Tá áthas orm bheith anseo sa Teach Bán, agus táimíd buioch duit a Uachtaráin don tacaoícht maidir le Brexit, agus do ceannaireacht maidir leis an cogadh in Ukráin.

“Tá mé ag tnúth le do cúirt mór go hÉireann. Beidh sé cuirt den scoth, geallaim.”


Niall Horan performs during the shamrock presentation ceremony. PA Niall Horan performs during the shamrock presentation ceremony. PA

Niall Horan performs during the shamrock presentation ceremony. PA

Niall Horan performs during the shamrock presentation ceremony. PA

Mr Varadkar’s use of Irish included a reference to “an cogadh in Ukráin” with praise for the leadership of the United States in response to the Russian invasion over a year ago.

The Taoiseach also hailed Mr Biden’s role in supporting Ukraine.

“America is at its best when it stands with its European partners to defend freedom and democracy,” he said.

“Thank you for that. I know you’ll stay the course for us, with us, and we’ll stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Both men, clad in green ties, referred to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which falls on April 10 next.

The Taoiseach told a nodding president that his tour in Ireland would be “a visit like no other”.

“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other,” he said.

“Everyone’s excited about it . We’re going to have great crowds who’d love to see you.”

The brief remarks and questions lasted only two minutes before aides and staffers ushered the press out of the office.

The Taoiseach ignored a shouted question, “what were you thinking about your comments on interns?” as he left the Oval Office following his meeting with President Biden.

There were no further comments or questions to throw further light on President Biden’s programme in Ireland in what is expected to be a five-day visit, with up to three days in the West of Ireland.

Later in the day, Mr Varadkar said politicians must fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement to deliver reconciliation – not just peace.

Mr Varadkar spoke about the unfinished legacy of the 1998 accord as he reflected on the upcoming 25th anniversary of the settlement that largely ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In the traditional St Patrick’s Day lunch on Capitol Hill, this year hosted by new Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Taoiseach hailed the achievement of the agreement in breaking the 30-year cycle of violence in Northern Ireland.

“Now we have to complete that work to fulfil the agreement’s promise not just of peace but also reconciliation, build a shared island together,” he said.

“I know the people of Northern Ireland want to see their political assembly and devolved government back up and running, and their politicians working to improve their lives.

“So much has been achieved since 1998. Today, new generations of young people are growing up with no memory of the conflict that their parents endured and, as somebody who grew up in the 80s and 90s when political violence was an almost everyday occurrence, that is something to be profoundly grateful for.”

Mr Varadkar said an end to the political impasse brought on by disputes over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol could deliver great economic prosperity for the region.

The Taoiseach highlighted the potential he saw in the new Windsor Framework struck by the EU and UK.

“I believe there are now incredible opportunities for economic development in Northern Ireland, especially with the potential of the Windsor Framework recently agreed with the European Commission and the UK Government,” he said.

“Our task now is to complete that mission to help the people of Northern Ireland to build a more peaceful and more prosperous future together.”

Mr Biden praised Northern Ireland’s political leaders standing together following the attempted murder of a 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.

The New IRA, an armed dissident republican group opposed to the peace process, has been blamed for the attack on the high-profile officer.

Following the murder bid, senior figures from the main Stormont parties went together to meet PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to receive an update on the incident.

Afterwards, they stood side by side along with Mr Byrne to condemn the attack and express solidarity with the police.

The show of togetherness came despite political upheaval at Stormont that has seen powersharing put in cold storage due to an impasse over post-Brexit trade.

Mr Biden referenced the incident in a speech at the St Patrick’s Day lunch hosted by Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Friday.

Mr Byrne was a guest at the lunch in Washington DC, as were the leaders of the five main Stormont parties.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald sat at the same table as DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

“Northern Ireland leaders that are here today, let me say how important it was to see you standing shoulder to shoulder with Chief Constable Byrne confirming your commitment to the future following the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell,” said Mr Biden.

“We all have to continue to work to protect peace and stability.”

After the luncheon, Mr Byrne described as “quite amazing” the support offered by President Biden.

Mr Byrne, who was given a standing ovation at a gala Irish American dinner on Wednesday evening, thanked the president for the “empathy and compassion” he had displayed to Mr Caldwell and his family.

“I think it’s really important that the hard work that the men and women of the police service are doing around the clock is acknowledged in this way, I just think it’s quite amazing,” he said later.

“We really, really appreciate the support from someone who’s so significant in global politics.”

He added: “I think one of the themes of the few days here in various settings is politicians and other key people from right across the spectrum have been single in their sympathy for John himself, but also the effect on his family.

“So when we get back we’ll be able to pass on some of those messages (to his family), which I think, again, shows how this awful attack has crossed certainly to this part of the globe.

“I think people are united in condemning it and seeing support for policing certainly continue to make progress in the next 25 years, after 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement and continuing to keep people safe.”

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