Yes, I can visit
- Obama plans to come here in May
- Pledges 'economic assistance'
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
US President Barack Obama last night promised to give the Government all the economic assistance he can as he revealed he is to visit here in May.
President Obama pledged his support as he announced his visit during Taoiseach Enda Kenny's traditional St Patrick's Day trip to the White House.
Speaking in the Oval Office, with Mr Kenny sitting next to him, he said: "I'm sure that we will be co-operating very closely with Mr Kenny and providing any assistance that we can on the economic front." He said he had "an excellent conversation" with the Taoiseach about how Ireland will bounce back from the economic challenges which the country is facing.
The visit, expected to be towards the end of May, will provide Mr Kenny's new Government with a significant economic and tourism boost.
The announcement took the Taoiseach by surprise as it was not flagged beforehand by the White House, but planning is already under way for a massive security and diplomatic operation and will step up a gear now the president's visit is confirmed.
Mr Obama's trip will also come within weeks of an historic visit by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland.
The early expectation is that Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will come to Ireland on their way to London for a state visit at the invitation of the queen.
From there, Mr Obama will head on to Deauville in France for the G8 summit of world leaders. The president said he would visit his ancestral home of Moneygall in Co Offaly, but provided no other details of his plans. However, he did acknowledge Ireland's support in the war in Afghanistan, through the use of Shannon Airport by US forces, prompting speculation he will be anxious to travel through the Co Clare airport.
A visit to Dublin is also expected, including a courtesy call on President Mary McAleese, with the possibility of an address to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Mr Obama's visit will also be viewed as a significant vote of confidence in the Irish Government as it bids for economic recovery.
Mr Obama will be in England from Tuesday, May 24, to Thursday, May 26, and France on Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27. The early reckoning last night was that the president would visit Ireland on Sunday, May 22 and Monday, May 23.
But another possible date for his trip here is the weekend of Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29.
President Obama made the announcement of his visit at the end of his first meeting with Mr Kenny in the White House yesterday.
Speaking in the Oval Office at the end of the 30-minute meeting, President Obama said: "I wanted to say today that I intend to come to Ireland in May. I'm expecting to go not only to all the famous sites but also to go to Moneygall where my great-great-great-great-great grandfather hails from."
In response, the Taoiseach expressed his delight at the impending visit.
"I am absolutely thrilled I have to say, that President Obama has confirmed that he is coming to Ireland. He follows a long line of presidents of the US who have visited Ireland. I can assure you that your visit will be rapturously received by the people of Ireland," he said.
"You will be made very welcome," he told the president.
This announcement is a considerable political and personal coup for Mr Kenny.
Two invitations had been issued by Taoiseach Brian Cowen on successive St Patrick's Day visits to Washington DC in 2009 and 2010, but while the president had expressed an interest in coming to Ireland, a visit never materialised.
In the Oval Office, Mr Kenny also offered to play the US president in a game of golf when he comes to Ireland.
"If you want to play a round of golf, I would be happy to participate with you," he told the president. "I hear the Taoiseach is pretty good so I gotta be careful. I may have to practice before I play with him," Mr Obama joked in reply.