Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in the US this week “to advance Ireland’s economic and political interests in the US, and to celebrate new and old cultural and community ties.”
One of the ways he hopes to do that, according to the Taoiseach himself and his government advisers, is by personal meetings with US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Traditionally the Taoiseach gets to present the US Head of State with a crystal bowl of shamrock.
Last year Mr Varadkar’s predecessor Enda Kenny, on his last lap in office, used his visit to deliver a thinly veiled rebuke to the recently-inaugurated President Trump on his attitude to immigrations.
The speech received brief but widespread coverage around the world. As has become something of a tradition in itself, the Taoiseach’s officials said that he would use his meeting with President Trump to “emphasise the strength of Irish-US relations and to highlight the case of the undocumented Irish.”
Mr Varadkar actually began his US trip last weekend with a visit to Austin, Texas where he attended the South By South West (SXSW) festival and met Texas governor Greg Abbott and the Irish community there. He also met a fellow speaker at the conference, former governor of California Arnold Schwarznegger who invited him to the Sunshine State.
During his visit he said Ireland expand its consular representation – or diplomatic footprint -in the region and called on the leading Tory Brexiteers to visit the Border counties in Northern Ireland to see for themselves the damage that might be wrought by the imposition of a hard Border that some of them support.
Mr Varadkar said: “I think it would be a good idea, I can’t see anything negative in a British cabinet minister viewing the Border, seeing what it looks like.
“As is always the case and this is true for any politicians or anyone in any walk of life you can read as many briefing documents as you like sometimes you need to see things with your own eyes, and I think for that reason, they would be very welcome to visit the Border and see it for themselves and to see that it is invisible.”
He added: “The reality is, I don’t anticipate a return to violence, but if you do have physical infrastructure, if you do have cameras and signs and border posts then you know those things will become targets and they will become vandalized and then what do you do? Do you accept that or do you bring in guards to stop that?”
On Sunday Mr Varadkar travelled to the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma to commemorate the relief the tribe famously provided to Ireland during the Great Famine.
On Tuesday he went to Washington DC where he delivered a foreign policy speech to the Brookings Institution and met former US Senator George Mitchell at a congressional event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
On Wednesday Mr Varadkar was due to address the annual American Ireland Fund gala dinner ahead of Thursday’s White House meeting with Donald Trump.
On Friday morning Mr Varadkar is due to be the guest of honour at a breakfast with Vice President Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana Mr Pence was noted for opposition to gay marriage and equality while Mr Varadkar is openly gay and a supporter of marriage equality.
Mr Varadkar’s visit will finish on Saturday, St Patrick’s Day on Saturday with a meeting with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral and walking in the famous New York St Patrick’s Day parade down Fifth Avenue.
Ahead of his White House meeting some of Mr Varadkar’s spin doctors told Irish media that the Taoiseach will tell US President Donald Trump that Ireland should become America’s “Bridge to Europe” when Britain eventually leaves the EU.
“At a time when Europe and America are drifting apart due to differences on issues like trade, tax and climate change, I believe Ireland can act as a bridge between Europe and America, interpreting one to the other. This is particularly true with the United Kingdom due to leave the EU next year.
“I also want to use the visit to emphasise the extent to which our relationship works both ways. Trade is relatively balanced when you take services into account and 100,000 Americans across 50 states are employed in Irish-owned firms. Free trade and free enterprise make us both winners.”
“My trip to Washington DC is timely because the European Commission will be producing its counter-proposals, its response to what the US has done in relation to steel and aluminium, they will be doing that on Wednesday – the day after that I will be in the White House representing Ireland but also speaking for the European Union.