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Thursday 18 January 2018

Obama trip has Enda somewhere over the rainbow

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

Merciful hour. What class of a week is it going to be in May when all in the space of a few mental days the Queen comes to call on us and then Barack Obama hits Moneygall?

Who knew world leaders were like the 46A bus -- one hangs about for ages and then two trundle up at the same time?

Given that many of the Brussels-based bigwigs now regard the Irish as a nation of feckless chancers who need to be punished for losing the financial plot, it's cheering to find that in Washington DC, good vibrations towards our benighted country appear to be intact.

There was still an inordinate amount of time handed over to the St Paddy's Day shenanigans by both Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the two days of the Taoiseach's visit.

Once again the green carpet was rolled out on Thursday night for the party in the White House in honour of the Irish contingent, when the Obamas hosted a hooley in honour of Enda and Fionnuala Kenny, hours after the president announced his Irish visit.

Hundreds of guests, including Louth's new TD Gerry Adams, former US senator George Mitchell, hotelier John Fitzpatrick and businessman Denis O'Brien, milled about the elegant East Room and spilled out into the adjoining rooms.

The news about the impending visit had added an extra bit of buzz to proceedings, and when the Obamas and Kennys walked onto the stage, the faces of all four were wreathed in smiles. And it was clear that Michelle and Fionnuala -- two formidable and outgoing women -- had hit it off, with the pair having animated chinwags while their respective husbands addressed the crowd.

And it's likely that Fionnuala will be involved with the First Lady's itinerary in May -- Michelle has already expressed an interest in visiting schools.

With 40 million Americans claiming Irish roots and an election looming next year, Barack Obama is quite content to count himself among their number, and while introducing Enda he said that St Patrick's Day was "a chance for us to remember how the journey to America began for so many of our ancestors -- including, as I discovered, one of mine -- how millions of Irish boarded dank and crowded ships with a promise to send for their families later, often with no friends, no money, and nothing but hope waiting for them on the other side".

Enda has been giving the impression of a man who's remarkably unfazed by his new gig, and in his own speech made a joking reference to the "O'Bamas of Leinster -- certainly if that's the case, I can tell you that in the history of the English language, never has a single apostrophe meant so much to so many," he added, as the president laughed heartily.

But perhaps Enda is a bit bamboozled to find himself a long way from Kansas -- at the end of his speech, he confessed: "I know now that miracles do happen. The fountain is green and I've arrived in the East Room."

And just like Dorothy, Enda admitted on RTE yesterday that his life of late has been "a whirlwind" down the political Yellow Brick Road.

Before he left for Ireland at noon yesterday, Enda went for a quick head-clearing stroll around Capitol Buildings, only to find himself nabbed by the inevitable Irish tourists.

"It was like a street canvass," remarked one observer.

But one person absent from the Paddy's Day events was Hillary Clinton, who was returning from the Middle East. However she turned up in the State Department yesterday for a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore.

Despite having just rolled off a long night flight and being up to her eyes in events in Libya and Japan, Hillary became most animated when the subject of Obama's visit to Ireland was raised in the press conference.

She gave a quick thumbs-up and said the administration was "delighted".

Asked if she was accompanying the Obamas, she said, "I never know where I'm going to be, but I would love to be there."

"I do have a lot of good ideas about what the president would like to do and I will share with our ambassadors and others who will be planning this trip."

The poor divil. Obama has no clue what he's let himself in for.

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