Los Angeles Times
Ireland’s premier visits White House on St. Patrick’s Day
Biden hosts Taoiseach Varadkar amid Irish American Heritage Month traditions.
WASHINGTON — With fresh shamrocks in his suit pocket for St. Patrick’s Day, President Biden voiced his support Friday for a recent economic accord affecting Ireland as he hosted the republic’s prime minister — a long-planned meet-up that the COVID-19 pandemic had scuttled two years in a row.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, presented Biden with a bowl of shamrocks, a tradition that began in 1952.
The shamrocks made it to the White House last year even though then-Prime Minister Micheál Martin did not. He came down with COVID-19 and had to join the meeting virtually while isolated in nearby Blair House, where world leaders often stay when they visit the White House. The two leaders’ first annual meeting was also virtual due to the pandemic.
“It’s good to have you back in the Oval Office, especially on St Patrick’s Day,” Biden said as he and Varadkar discussed their nations’ support for Ukraine and how to better deepen their economic ties. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Biden, who often speaks of his Irish heritage and is fond of quoting Irish poets, declared March to be Irish American Heritage Month. The White House even dyed the South Lawn fountain green for the occasion.
Biden has said he plans a visit soon to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, to mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord. That agreement helped end sectarian violence that had raged for decades over the question of Northern Ireland unifying with Ireland or remaining part of the U.K.
“We really want to profoundly thank you and America for your leadership in relation to Ukraine,” Varadkar said.
“We’re going to roll out the red carpet” when Biden visits Ireland, he added.
The Good Friday agreement came under increasing stress after the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, but a recent accord between the U.K. and the EU addresses some of the issues surrounding commerce and goods that cross the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The White House has said the agreement, known as the Windsor Framework, is an important step in maintaining the peace accord, and Biden spoke Friday of support for the framework — though Northern Ireland’s political leaders have called for changes.
Varadkar took over as taoiseach in December for a second term as part of a jobsharing deal made by the country’s centrist coalition government.
Varadkar and his partner, Matthew Barrett, attended a breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, at the vice presidential residence. Varadkar told the crowd there that Ireland was grateful for its “close and deep bond with these United States.”
He said the United States had played a central role in promoting peace in Ireland “at critical points when few others had the influence to do so,” and noted that the U.S. had also been strong on LGBTQ rights.
“From Stonewall to Sacramento to San Francisco. America has led the way when it comes to LGBT equality,” he said. “I don’t think I would be here today were it not for what America did.”
Varadkar then met with the president in the Oval Office before they headed to the Capitol for a lunch with congressional leaders.
Biden hosted a reception for Varadkar later Friday at the White House, which was designed and built by an Irish-born man, James Hoban. Hoban oversaw not only the building’s initial construction, but the rebuilding after it was burned down and any renovations before his death in 1831.
According to the Census Bureau, roughly 31.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish heritage, second only to those who claim German roots.
“Ireland and the United States are forever bound together by our people and our passion. Everything between us runs deep,” Biden said in proclaiming Irish American Heritage Month.
The St. Patrick’s Day tradition, like the Thanksgiving turkey pardon and the egg roll on Easter, has become an annual affair at the White House.
“That’s what’s wonderful about this history of the White House,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Assn. “It’s laden with rich traditions that are cultural, not just from our own country.”