‘Is feidir linn’ - Obama
‘Is feidir linn’ - Obama

The Irish political establishment, led by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and including the North’s political leaders, was broadly enthusiastic following the annual St Patrick’s Day ‘bowl of shamrock’ ceremony and celebrations in Washington DC with the new US President, Barack Obama.

The reception from Mr Obama involved a series of events, culminating in a party in the White House and involved four joint public appearances by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the US president.

Even a major gaffe by the Taoiseach, in which he delivered a portion of a speech intended to be delivered by the President, failed to disrupt the back-slapping and bonhomie.

According to reports, the two men discussed relations between Ireland and the US, including Ireland’s policy of low corporation tax, seen as critical to the Irish economy, as well as the situation in the North.

It was one of President Obama’s first bilateral talks with a foreign premier since his inauguration.

At a lunch hosted by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, the Taoiseach thanked the US politicians present for helping to bring peace and prosperity to Ireland.

“Last week, a tiny and evil minority killed two soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland. They sought to destroy the peace we have built together. They did not succeed, they cannot succeed, they will not succeed.”

Mr Obama said later that the thoughts and prayers of Americans everywhere went out to the families of those killed.

“I want everyone listening to know this: the United States will always stand with those who work towards peace. After seeing former adversaries mourning and praying and working together this week, I’ve never been more confident that peace will prevail,” he said.

Mr Cowen also emphasised that Mr Obama had made it clear he does not regard Ireland as a tax haven. He also invited the president and Michelle Obama to Ireland, while Mr Obama announced that the new US ambassador to Ireland is Dan Rooney, the owner of Superbowl champions the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Earlier, Mr Obama said that the events in the US to mark St Patrick’s Day were an affirmation of one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exist in the world.

The president also made a number of references to his distant Irish ancestry.

“When I was a relatively unknown candidate for office, I didn’t know about this part of my heritage, which would have been very helpful in Chicago. So I thought I was bluffing when I put the apostrophe after the O. I tried to explain that ‘Barack’ was an ancient Celtic name.

“Taoiseach, I hope our efforts today put me on the path of earning that apostrophe.”

Mr Cowen told the president that there was a phrase in the Irish language, “Is feidir linn”.

“It may seem familiar. It translates as ‘Yes, we can’.”

At the second attempt, the president correctly pronounced: “Is feidir linn. All right. I got that. Yes, we can.”

The North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told Mr Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton that the North’s political institutions had “emerged stronger” after the recent attacks.

The two leaders met Mr Obama for 20 minutes in the White House and Mrs Clinton for 30 minutes at the state department.

Mrs Clinton said Mr Obama would appoint a special envoy for the North with a special focus on economic ties between the US and the North.

“The state department and the Obama administration will be actively engaged in assisting the leadership in Northern Ireland. This is not a subject of passing interest but of surpassing interest,” she said.

“We are there to help. We’re not there to do anything other than support the decisions that these extraordinary leaders make. But if we are needed. . . we will continue to support this process.”

Mr McGuinness praised Mrs Clinton’s record of engagement in Ireland and said the people of the North appreciated the commitment of the Obama administration to supporting the peace process.

“Although we represent different parties, we represent one community in the North. . and we’re not going to allow our community to be plunged into mayhem and destruction by people who have no support, no mandate whatsoever and no right whatsoever to attack the peace of the people of Ireland,” he said.

At a press conference with 26-County Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, Mrs Clinton sharply corrected a reporter who referred to the killers as “dissidents”.

“Not dissidents. I’m all in favour of dissidents. I’m not in favour of criminals,” she said.

“When these criminal elements, these rejectionists determined to kill and try to set the communities against one another in Northern Ireland again, to relive the Troubles and the bad days that everyone worked so hard to resolve, it was distressing.

“But I was immediately heartened by the response across Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, with people speaking out against the murderers and the violence and the provocation these actions represented.”

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