Trump uses racist language but is not a racist, insists Taoiseach
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has claimed that while Donald Trump uses racist language it "doesn't follow at all" that he is actually racist.
Just hours ahead of his first meeting with the new US President, Mr Kenny indicated he will not apologise for his Dáil statement about Mr Trump using "racist and dangerous" language.
However, he went on to try to backtrack on his comments by insisting he does not believe the president is prejudiced.
"I'm not into English classes. The language that was used on that occasion was in my view not the language that I would use, but it was not related to his personality," Mr Kenny said.
It came on a day of gaffes for the Taoiseach in Washington, as he also rewrote a major speech to remove what would have been the first public acknowledgement that he is to step aside in the coming weeks.
An embargoed copy of his keynote address to The Ireland Fund dinner was released to the travelling media yesterday morning, only to be withdrawn just over an hour later.
The original version suggested Mr Kenny would tell the audience, including US Vice President Mike Pence, that he is to step aside as Taoiseach.
Mr Kenny spoke about how "for the last six years you have opened your hearts to me as Taoiseach". And he went on to say: "On this night - my last with you as Taoiseach - I want to remember particularly Lew Glucksman."
Asked by the Irish Independent as to why this line was removed, Mr Kenny said: "The speech that you got is not the speech that I'm delivering tonight. That's why. I've already explained to my own parliamentary party my intention and how I intend to go about that."
Asked a second time as to why it was removed, he replied: "Because it shouldn't have been in there. That's why."
A spokesman later said Mr Kenny had not approved the original speech before it was issued to the media.
The Taoiseach also came under an extraordinary attack from former Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley, who questioned whether Mr Kenny wants to "go out of office as a Wolfhound or a lap dog".
Today's Shamrock Ceremony at the White House comes against a backdrop where Mr Trump's new immigration ban on six predominantly Muslim countries comes into force.
Mr O'Malley, who is tipped to be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, said: "A few months ago, Enda Kenny said Donald Trump was 'racist and dangerous'. Now, the great immigrant round-up has begun and he wants to have a beer with him. That the Irish - of all people - would shower this immigrant-bashing president with shamrocks is appalling."
However, a close friend of the president, Ukip's Nigel Farage, said that Mr Kenny should apologise for "saying vile things" about Mr Trump.
"Trump won't have forgotten that," he said on RTÉ Radio, adding: "How much more insulting can you be than to call someone racist?"
In response Mr Kenny told reporters: "I haven't come to America to answer to Nigel Farage.
"I am proud and privileged to be the leader of the Irish Government. I'm responding to an invitation sent by the president of the United States and I'm happy to go to the White House to continue the traditional connection between Ireland and the United States symbolising the contribution Irish people have made over many centuries and the fact that we want to continue with that."
The Taoiseach begins his hectic itinerary today with breakfast at Mr Pence's home.
Asked whether he would "speak up" for the gay community during the encounter, Mr Kenny said he would "if I have the opportunity".
Mr Pence has been dogged by accusations that he is a supporter of 'conversion therapy' and is against marriage equality.
"I would be happy to say to him that the experience in Ireland was one of massive relief and release for people who were able to remove themselves from the limbo in which they'd lived for years," Mr Kenny said, adding that the Irish marriage referendum "was an extraordinary circumstance where that unbridled joy was evident in our people".