Friday, March 17, 2023

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA in Washington DC

The Irish-American relationship has been hailed as one of “two proud democracies, close friends and economic partners” by Leo Varadkar ahead of his visit to the White House for St Patrick’s Day.

The Taoiseach made the remarks at a reception hosted at the residence of Ireland’s ambassador to the US Geraldine Byrne Nason, in which he praised Ireland’s 14 Oscar nominations.

He said the Irish-US relationship “took root and grew from the contribution of millions of Irish emigrants who came here over the years to expend their talents and energies in the creation of modern America.

 

“The Irish and Scots Irish came here from a troubled homeland to build new lives for themselves and their families and they succeeded.”

Among those present at the event were DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, UN Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III, and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr Varadkar’s partner Matt Barrett.

It comes after Mr Varadkar apologised for an “ill-judged” remark made during a speech in Washington DC on Thursday in what is being seen as an apparent reference to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

While reminiscing about his experience as an intern in the United States, the Taoiseach made a reference to possible concern about being an intern in the US capital at the time.

Mr Varadkar made the remarks during an address to the Washington Ireland Programme, which helps young people develop career skills and which Mr Varadkar took part in in 2000.

The Taoiseach’s comment came hours after attending an event honouring women’s role in the Good Friday Agreement, during which he praised Hillary Clinton for her sustained involvement in Northern Ireland.

The 91st Academy Awards – Vanity Fair Party – Los Angeles
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky (Ian West/PA).

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said in a statement following the event: “At the Washington Ireland Programme event today, the Taoiseach was reminiscing about his time in Washington DC as an intern 23 years ago.

“He made an ill-judged off the cuff remark which he regrets. He apologises for any offence caused to anyone concerned.”

It comes as former US president Bill Clinton and Mrs Clinton are due to take a leading role in commemorations planned in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next month.

The remarks were made at one of the lower profile events on the Taoiseach’s three-day itinerary in DC, taking place between engagements with senior political and business figures.

Monica Lewinsky was a young White House intern when she and the then-US president Bill Clinton embarked on a romance in the 1990s.

She was pilloried for years after the scandal broke.

The affair almost forced Mr Clinton out of office and Ms Lewinsky has spoken about the devastating effect it had on her life in the years after.

Mr Varadkar sat beside Hillary Clinton at Thursday morning’s event at Georgetown University focusing on the role of women in the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Concern Worldwide conference
Former US President Bill Clinton (PA)

The Taoiseach’s controversial comments about interns later in the day came ahead of his meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday to mark St Patrick’s Day.

During a bilateral meeting the two politicians are expected to discuss the President’s planned visit to the island of Ireland next month.

Mr Varadkar is also set to thank Joe Biden for his administration’s support during the Brexit process.

The Taoiseach’s visit will culminate in a high-profile ceremony to hand over a crystal bowl of shamrocks to the US president at the White House.

Friday’s programme will start with a breakfast engagement for Mr Varadkar with US vice-president Kamala Harris.

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