Friday 9 December 2016

Obama apologises to Kenny for straying from script to launch attack against 'vulgar' Trump

Philip Ryan in Washington

Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) welcomes Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny in the Oval Office. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) welcomes Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny in the Oval Office. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Obama shares a joke with Fionnuala Kenny. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Barack Obama in the White House. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan and Enda Kenny. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Barack Obama turned to acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and apologised for breaking from St Patrick's Day customs to discuss domestic issues.

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The crowd of American and foreign dignitaries, who had gathered for the Speaker of the House's annual lunch for the Taoiseach in Capitol Hill, fell silent.

With Republican Speaker Paul Ryan looking on from his seat beside Mr Kenny, the president launched into his strongest attack to date on the increasingly divisive presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities, and Americans that don't look like us or pray like us or vote like we do," he said.

During his address, Mr Obama highlighted the years of violence in Northern Ireland to highlight the "damage that can be done" when politics is allowed go into "dark places".

Mr Kenny was one of the first on his feet for the standing ovation that the President received after his speech.

He was joined by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Arlene Foster - who were also invited to the lunch with America's political elite. Actor Richard Gere, Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden also attended one of the annual highlights of St Patrick's week.

Domestic issues aside, there was plenty of time for jokes about the President's Irish ancestry in Moneygall, Co Offaly, and Paul Ryan's links to Graiguenamanagh in Kilkenny.

Mr Kenny suggested the political rivals could meet in a location halfway between the two counties to discuss the deadlock in the US over appointing a Supreme Court judge. Mr Ryan laughed at his table and said "it's not that easy".

Earlier, the Republican joked that Ireland's recovery was not down to policy decisions - but rather the excellent quality of Guinness.

The lunch was a welcome break from the political instability weighing on Mr Kenny's head, as his ministers scramble to form a government back on Irish soil. His detractors in Leinster House may disagree - but Mr Biden insisted the caretaker Taoiseach is the "most popular guy" in Ireland despite the huge number of seats he lost when the country went to the polls.

"I can assure you, if you ran in America, you would get 80pc (of the vote)," Mr Biden joked.

He also revealed that Mr Kenny confided in him about the general election outcome before sitting down to breakfast in the Vice President's residence, the Naval Observatory. Mr Biden said the Fine Gael leader told him three times "it is going to work out" when they discussed the formation of the next government.

During his address, Mr Kenny blamed the political quagmire in Ireland on anti-austerity parties which "run from responsibility" and do not have the "courage to be decisive and make decisions in the interest of the country".

"My belief is that our country, over the next period ahead, we will be able to put together a stable government," he added.

Mr Obama also warned of the volatility in Ireland after the general election - but Mr Kenny said the President did not offer him any guidance ahead of talks on forming a government later this week.

He did, however, throw down the gauntlet to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who he insisted should take up the responsibility to help form a government.

Talks have not begun but Mr Kenny assured reporters outside the White House that the invitation was there if Mr Martin wanted to sit down and talk. An invitation was also extended to the President and the First Lady Michelle Obama to return to Ireland after their time in office at the official shamrock presenting ceremony.

For much of his one-day State visit to Washington yesterday, Mr Kenny seemed to be overcome with emotion from what is more than likely his final trip to America as Taoiseach. After his press conference outside the White House, with doubts hanging over his political future, Mr Kenny was asked does he hope to return for the event next year. He simply replied: "I hope so."

Meanwhile, at an Irish Embassy event last night, Mr Kenny joked that he wished he didn't have to return home to face government talks.

"Bejaysus, I wish I didn't have to go back and face what I have to face," he said.

Irish Independent

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