“Every American president is a little bit Irish on St Patrick’s Day…but some are more Irish than others.” Those words, spoken by Leo Varadkar, were greeted by raucous cheers in the White House, and a broad grin from Joe Biden, “unmistakably a son of Ireland”.
The Taoiseach was right. The second Irish Catholic US president, after JFK, there is little doubt that Joe Biden is the most overtly proud of his Irish heritage. The president’s grandfather told him that “the best drop of blood in you is Irish”, he said, and it certainly seems like he took that to heart.
For the travelling Irish journalists, it can be easy to take all this for granted every year – the access to the Oval Office, the Irish flags, songs, music, poetry, the green White House fountain… an outpouring of affection and warmth towards a tiny country on the fringes of Europe.
But this sort of guaranteed access to the most powerful office in the world is remarkable, and Ireland’s government and diplomats are well aware of the influence it confers. Mr Varadkar thanked the president today for America’s support on Brexit – “it really made a difference”, he said.
The proud Irish-American with roots in Counties Mayo and Louth spoke repeatedly of his support for the Windsor Framework, again subtly increasing the pressure on the DUP, whose leader Jeffrey Donaldson was present at the shamrock ceremony, to accept the deal.
But Biden failed to give more details about his upcoming trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, as many had expected. The dates are still unclear.
But for the Irish, this was another diplomatic success. We had the sight of the US president draping his arm around Mullingar heartthrob Niall Horan, lauding the Irish rugby team and hoping for their Grand Slam victory over England, and speaking in the most sentimental way about the aul sod.
Leo Varadkar will head for home assured once more that in this White House in particular, Irish interests are being very well protected.
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