US President Donald Trump has said he will visit Ireland and will go to the border, according to reports from Washington DC.
Mr Trump met the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as part of the traditional series of events in the US Capitol ahead of St Patrick’s Day. After the meeting with Mr Trump, the Taoiseach said a firm date for his visit to Ireland had not yet been set, but that the president had a “standing invitation”.
He said Mr Trump may be able to visit “some of the Irish companies that invest in the US, and also as well perhaps to see the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
The US President himself said the trip could happen next year. On the border, Mr Trump said: “That is an interesting border also, we have two interesting borders”, an apparent reference to the US/Mexico frontier where he wants to build a wall.
Mr Varadkar said Brexit’s impact on the border also featured in the talks, which also involved Vice President Mike Pence.
“The president was very aware of the issues that could affect Northern Ireland if there is a return to a hard border and I think he will be very much on our side in working for a solution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Seven US presidents, including John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have visited Ireland. If Trump was to visit, it would probably take place in the lead up to the next US presidential election in 2020.
‘BOWL OF SHAMROCKS’
At the traditional ceremony, where the Taoiseach handed a bowl of shamrock to Trump, both men gave traditional speeches regarding the historic ties between Ireland and the US.
Varadkar mentioned the plight of undocumented Irish in America as well as the strong trade between both countries in his speech at the White House today.
Trump, for his part, said that he “loved the Irish” and talked about the strong influence the Irish have had on the US over the years.
“It’s my great honour to receive this magnificent bowl of Ireland’s great shamrocks [sic],” Trump said.
He said that the Irish were people “full of love, warmth, grit and resolve” and that it was “closely woven into our own”. Hw talked about the “shared bonds” both countries and of how eight of the US founding fathers had Irish heritage.
“The US has truly been blessed with the luck of the Irish to have you with us today,” said Trump.
He claimed Varadkar would be back for the next seven years, apparently confusing the seven-year term of presidency in Ireland with the five-year maximum duration of an Irish government.
STATE DEPT CHAOS
The annual ceremony is also watched for the changes in line-up in terms of the invited guests. This year, Gerry Adams was welcomed in, while the new Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, was left without an invitation.
The Dublin TD has previously attended the annual shamrock ceremony in the White House but this year she was not invited, and neither was Sinn Fein’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill.
Two years ago, Mr Adams was refused entry to the White House due to confusion over a background security check on the then Sinn Fein leader.
Speaking in Washington, the day before the event, Ms McDonald said: “I don’t feel that I was snubbed” and added: “It is a matter for the White House who they invite as their guests.”
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. There are many celebrations marking that occasion and I think it is entirely appropriate actually that Gerry Adams, as one of the main architects of that agreement, would be at the White House. So no he should not snub the White House. He shouldn’t be snubbing anybody,” she added.
On the unionist side, DUP leader Arlene Foster was left out, but supplanted by DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr, who managed to tweet a selfie of himself with Melania Trump.
Ms McDonald welcomed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s invitation to Trump to visit Ireland, despite the likelihood that the event would bring protests from left-wing groups.
“On the issue of the President of the United States coming to Ireland that in the first instance is a call for the Taoiseach and for the diplomatic services but again where America can bring something positive to bear and make a positive contribution to our process I think we should always be open to that,” Ms McDonald said,
“I don’t think for a moment that inviting another head of state should be read as endorsing or sharing their political views on things. But let’s be honest, the stakes for Ireland now in light of Brexit, the challenges we face in getting the Northern administration up an running are very very great.
“I do think we can benefit from American influence in that but ultimately we will have to do the heavy lifting [ourselves],” she added.
There was speculation that the upheaval in the Trump administration, which saw the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fired last week, may have added to confusion in the invitations and to a mix-up which saw veteran Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris and Richard McAuley, long-time aide to former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, forced to cancel their plans to travel to the US.
Mr Ferris said that he had received visas from US authorities 11 previous times without incident, although during his last visit to Boston in 2016, he was delayed by US Immigration officials at Dublin Airport so long that he missed his flight and on arrival, he was questioned about whether he intended to meet ‘dissident’ republican figures in the United States.
He was forced to cancel this week’s itinerary, which had included stops in Florida, Ohio and Kentucky, before coming to Boston. His daugher Toireasa Ferris, who had planned to accompany her father in Massachusetts, will now attend the engagements herself.