President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar painted the town green Friday, celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day — and touting Biden’s expected visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday peace accords.
The Taoiseach’s annual White House visit is a cherished tradition on the Irish national holiday.
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That has never been more true than under Biden, who frequently trumpets his family roots in Ireland and sprinkles quotes from Irish poems through his speeches.
In front of a fire in the Oval Office, Biden, sporting a sprig of shamrock in his lapel, said Saint Patrick’s is a “big day” in his house.
Varadkar, also wearing shamrock, highlighted US assistance in tortuous negotiations over trade rules between post-Brexit Britain and its Northern Irish province and the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU.
The arrangement, known as the Windsor Framework, is an “agreement that lasts,” Varadkar said, “which is important for Northern Ireland, and also important for British-Irish and European relations.”
He promised Biden a good time on his coming visit, expected to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement, which ended the violent unrest known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other. Everyone’s excited about it already. We’re going to have great crowds who would love to see you,” he said.
Varadkar’s day started at breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris, where “eggs Saint Patrick” were on the menu. Varadkar and Biden then left for lunch at the US Capitol, hosted by Republican speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy.
Later at the White House, where the fountains were tinted green for the day, Varadkar was to present Biden with the traditional bowl of shamrock — sprigs of clover representing Ireland.
Entertaining the revelers will be Irish pop star Niall Horan, a former member of mega boy band One Direction, now a singer-songwriter.
– Post-Brexit deal –
Some 32 million Americans — almost 10 percent — claim ancestral roots in Ireland.
Given the long history, the fates of the country and troubled northern province play outsized roles in US politics.
Biden on Monday said he intends to visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who met Biden in California this week, said he was inviting him to Northern Ireland to “commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.”
“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you,” Sunak said.
Expectations have been that Biden was waiting for the British-EU trade dispute to be resolved before he planned a visit. While that is now to be in place, there are still wrinkles.
The head of the biggest pro-British Northern Irish party, the DUP, said Tuesday it would not rush on deciding whether to endorse the Windsor Framework.
“Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said on a visit of his own to Washington.
If the post-Brexit trade arrangement does get full backing from rival forces in Northern Ireland, that could pave the way for restarting a local power-sharing agreement between pro-British loyalists and the nationalist parties, which want to break away and reunite the province with the Republic of Ireland.
Asked if there was a timeframe in place for Biden’s visit, Varadkar told reporters: “Not at this moment.”
In an indication of the close US involvement in the Irish political puzzle, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met Thursday at the White House with both Donaldson and leaders of the nationalist Sinn Fein party.