WASHINGTON (AP) — Sporting a green tie and fresh shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, President Joe Biden on Friday voiced his support for a recent economic accord affecting Ireland as he hosted the republic's prime minister, a longstanding meetup scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic two years in a row.
Biden was presented with a bowl of shamrocks from Leo Varadkar, known as the taoiseach, a tradition that began in 1952. The shamrocks made it to the White House last year even though then-prime minister Micheál Martin didn’t. He came down with COVID-19 and had to join the meeting virtually while isolated in nearby Blair House, where world leaders often stay when they come to visit the White House. The two leaders' first annual meeting was virtual, too, because of the pandemic.
“It’s good to have you back in the Oval Office, especially on St Patrick’s Day," Biden said as he and Varadker discussed their nations' continued support of Ukraine and how to better deepen their economic ties. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Biden, who often speaks of his Irish heritage and is fond of quoting Irish poets, declared March Irish-American heritage month. The White House even dyed the South Lawn fountain green for the occasion.
Biden has said he plans to soon visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, to mark the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord. That agreement helped end sectarian violence that had raged for decades over the question of Northern Ireland unifying with Ireland or remaining part of the U.K.
“We really want to profoundly thank you and America for your leadership in relation to Ukraine," Varadker said. “We’re going to roll out the red carpet” for Biden's visit in Ireland, he said.
The Good Friday agreement came under increasing stress following the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, but a recent accord between the U.K. and the EU addresses some of the issues that arose around commerce and goods that cross the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The White House said the agreement, known as the Windsor Framework, is an important step in maintaining the peace accord and Biden on Friday spoke of support for the framework, though Northern Ireland's political leaders have called for changes.
Varadkar took over in December for a second term as part of a job-sharing deal made by the country’s centrist coalition government. The two leaders were expected to discuss the continued support of Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion.
Varadkar and his partner, Matthew Barrett, attended a breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff at the Vice President’s home, and Varadkar told the crowd there that Ireland is grateful for the “close and deep bond with these United States.”
He said the U.S. has played a central role in promoting peace in Ireland “at critical points when few others had the influence to do so.” And Varadkar said the U.S. has been strong on LGBTQ rights.
“From Stonewall to Sacramento to San Francisco. America has led the way when it comes to LGBT equality,” he said. “I don’t think I would be here today were it not for what America did.”
Varadkar then was meeting with the president in the Oval Office before both were to head to the Capitol for a lunch with congressional leaders.
Biden was to host a reception for Varadkar later Friday at the White House, which was itself designed and built by an Irish-born man, James Hoban. He oversaw the initial construction, rebuilding after it was burned down and adding renovations until his death in 1831.
According to the Census Bureau, roughly 31.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish heritage, second only to German.
“Ireland and the United States are forever bound together by our people and our passion. Everything between us runs deep,” Biden said in his proclamation.
The St. Patrick's Day tradition, like the turkey pardon and Easter egg roll, has become an annual White House affair.
“That's what's wonderful about this history of the White House,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association. “It's laden with rich traditions that are cultural, not just from our own country.”