Enda plots US course as ministers go on the march
Published 13/03/2014 | 02:30
ENDA'S Green Army is on the march as the great St Patrick's Day ministerial exodus gets under way. The Taoiseach is leading the global charge of 27 ministers to 23 countries, as he begins a six-day visit today to three US cities – Washington DC, Boston and New York – with a busy schedule which includes the annual meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House, a dinner with Vice-President Joe Biden and walking in the St Patrick's Day parade in New York.
Kenny's visit to the White House tomorrow morning will be the third meeting for the two leaders who both face crucial mid-term elections this year.
However, their respective local politics won't be dominating the scheduled 45-minute bilateral meeting, which is a hugely precious perk of the annual festivities. Topics on the agenda for discussion are likely to include immigration reform, and another possible issue is Ireland's generous tax regime for multinational companies. Earlier this month it was reported that Apple's Irish subsidiary paid just $36m in tax on $7.1bn in profits between 2004 and 2008.
But it is now not expected that this visit will coincide with the announcement of a new US ambassador to Ireland, although 15 months have now elapsed since Dan Rooney stepped down from the post.
"We've had no indication from the White House that any such announcement is imminent," said one government source.
Today the Taoiseach will address the US Chamber of Commerce and also attend an economic lunch. According to a government spokesman, the central focus of this year's trip will be "to highlight the very significant progress made towards Ireland's economic recovery", with emphasis on the country's exit from the bailout programme and a successful return to the bond markets – serendipitously for Mr Kenny, Ireland's 10-year bond yields hit an all-time record low yesterday.
Later this evening the Taoiseach will give a keynote address at The American Ireland Fund gala dinner, which this year honours Biden and UBS America's CEO Robert McCann.
Hotelier and chairman of the American Fund, John Fitzpatrick, described the attendance of the Taoiseach and the US vice-president as "a great honour, and it shows the extreme commitment of the US to Ireland."
He firmly believes that the annual global exodus of Irish ministers does reap positive rewards for the country.
"With the US now emerging from recession, there is the chance of a lot more investment coming to Ireland, and the presence of a senior government figure at a business event can often help to get a deal over the line," he said.
On Friday, Mr Kenny will attend a breakfast at Biden's residence before heading to the White House, and then onto Capitol Hill for the Speaker's Lunch.
The ceremonial presentation of the shamrock will take place at a reception in the White House this evening.
But before the Taoiseach arrived in the capital late last night, the greening of the city was already under way. The House Speaker, John Boehner took part in a charity event, the Guinness Congressional Perfect Pint Challenge in The Dubliner Bar on Capitol Hill. The powerful Republican politician recently indicated that he was ready to move on legislation to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants, which could benefit the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in America.
At another event in the city yesterday, Fianna Fail senator Mark Daly presented a bowl of shamrock to Congressman Paul Ryan, who is the current odds-on favourite to win the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election.
"The shamrock presented to Congressman Ryan and which will be given to President Obama tomorrow was grown in Kerry," said Kenmare's Mark Daly. Of course it was.
"It was like a dry run for when he wins the election in two years' time, after which he'll be hosting the Irish in the White House," (semi)-joked the senator.
There's no doubt that North America is the main target for Enda's Green Army this year; alongside the Taoiseach, nine government representatives are popping up across the continent.
These are: Michael Noonan (Canada); Joan Burton (New York); Jimmy Deenihan (San Francisco); Alan Shatter (Mexico); James Reilly (Boston and Cleveland); Leo Varadkar (Atlanta and Savannah); Maire Whelan, Attorney General (Washington DC); Dinny McGinley (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia); Sean Sherlock (Chicago and Kansas).