Kenny jets off to US for scaled-down travel plans
Caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny will tonight travel to Washington for a shortened visit ahead of the St Patrick's Day celebrations.
Mr Kenny is due to spend tomorrow in the US capital where he will meet US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The Fine Gael leader will also appear as guest of honour at the Speaker's Lunch on Capitol Hill, which is attended by congressional leaders.
But the trip has been significantly scaled back compared with previous years as a result of the ongoing political impasse at home.
On Wednesday, the Mayo TD was due to attend an economic lunch hosted by the Irish Embassy and a dinner organised by the American Ireland Fund, where Mr Kenny was due to meet Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, and his predecessor John Boehner.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will replace Mr Kenny at these events.
Last year, Mr Kenny visited Washington, Texas and Atlanta as part of his trip, which lasted a week.
But the Fine Gael leader is due to travel to attend an EU Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday, St Patrick's Day, and will be returning to Brussels later for further meetings.
"The Taoiseach is engaging in a full programme of the key principle events that he attends annually in Washington, including meeting Vice President Biden in the Naval Observatory, attending the Speaker's Lunch on Capitol Hill and meeting President Obama and presenting the shamrock bowl, a key part of Irish-American relations," a government spokesman told the Irish Independent.
"The Taoiseach is required to attend an EU Council meeting in Brussels on St Patrick's Day, and will be returning to Ireland in advance of departing again for Brussels.
"The next seven days' travel will predominantly be taken up by the American programme and attendance in Brussels," he added.
It was revealed on Friday that the Government has opted for a scaled-down travel plan for St Patrick's Day this year.
Just 10 ministers will travel overseas this year compared with 27 in 2015.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, both of whom have been tipped as future leadership contenders, are among those due to remain at home for the duration of the week.
The St Patrick's Day travel plans mean that the weekly Cabinet meeting will be cancelled.