Taoiseach Enda Kenny is meeting US President Donald Trump in Washington today to present him with the ceremonial bowl of Irish shamrock.
Last night he feted and flattered US Vice President Mike Pence – whose grandfather came from Ireland – at an American Ireland Fund dinner at which VP Pence was the guest of honour.
Mr Kenny had said in advance that he would seek to raise with VP Pence – who is an avowed critic of equal rights for homosexual people – Ireland’s experience of equalizing marriage laws. (To date, it appears Mr Kenny did not actually do so).
Mr Kenny’s visit has been overshadowed by his robust criticism last May of then Presidential candidate Donald Trump on the floor of Dail Eireann and by the fact he is expected – by his party – to stand down as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach shortly afterwards.
Speaking to reporters on his trip Mr Kenny sought to draw a fine distinction between his criticism of candidate Trump’s racist and intolerant comments…and any notion he was saying Trump himself was racist or mysognist.
He also sought to explain away comments in the advance ‘check against delivery’ embargoed copies of his speech at Wednesday night’s event that this would be his last trip as Taoiseach.
Copies of the speech with that comment were recalled and he never delivered the line.
Last May Mr Kenny said that Americans should not vote for Mr Trump in the presidential election because “ if Trump’s comments are racist and dangerous, which they are, there is an alternative to vote for.”
Speaking at the UN Institution for Peace in Washington DC Mr Kenny said: “I’m responding to an invitation sent by the president of the United States and I’m happy to go to the White House to continue the traditional connection between Ireland and the United States symbolising the contribution Irish people have made over many centuries and the fact that we want to continue with that.”
He said: “I did not refer to the president as being racist; my comment was in respect of his language.”
He said it “doesn’t follow” that a person who makes racist comments is a racist.
In an explanation that was less Jesuitical and more Father Ted, Mr Kenny said: “Language can be used by people in many regards and my comment was made when he was running as a candidate in the election. My meaning was not in any way personal to him. The language that was used on that occasion was not language I would use and not in relation to his personality.”
Martin O’Malley, a former Democratic governor, organised a petition calling on Mr Kenny to boycott the meeting with the president and told Irish reporters covering the event:
“A few months ago, Enda Kenny said Donald Trump was racist and dangerous. Now, the great immigrant round-up has begun and he wants to have a beer with him.
“This is an appalling abdication of conscience and unbecoming of the more noble traditions of the Irish people.
“Does he want to go out of office as a wolfhound or a lapdog?
“This isn’t about the St. Patrick’s party, it’s about the people and it’s about the true character of the United States, a country that received millions of Irish immigrants to our shores.
“America never turned its back on Ireland; we need Ireland now to stand with us.”