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Taoiseach spends White House visit in lockdown as Covid chaos hits

Micheál Martin and Joe Biden were forced to hold talks over Zoom


US President Joe Biden hosts the virtual St Patrick's Day meeting with Micheál Martin at the White House. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

US President Joe Biden hosts the virtual St Patrick's Day meeting with Micheál Martin at the White House. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

US President Joe Biden hosts the virtual St Patrick's Day meeting with Micheál Martin at the White House. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is in lockdown for 10 days in Washington DC as the Irish camp was left scrambling after he became the second member of the delegation to test positive for Covid-19.

The Fianna Fáil leader was stuck in the presidential guesthouse and missed out on a momentous day and all of the festivities scheduled especially for him in Washington after testing positive on a PCR test while at a grand gala on Wednesday night.

He will now miss this Sunday’s National Day of Remembrance ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance, as well as the EU Council meeting next week which US President Joe Biden is also set to attend.

A member of the travelling Irish delegation tested positive and, after a re-test, Mr Martin returned a positive test.

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The Irish delegation has since been tested twice and no further cases were found.

Mr Martin missed out on his only chance to visit the White House as Taoiseach during this Government term, instead taking part in a virtual Zoom meeting, as happened in March 2021 during the height of the pandemic.

“Last year, we met virtually across the Atlantic; this year, we’re meeting virtually across the road,” said Mr Martin.

“So we’re getting closer.”

He added: “It reminds us of the importance of the vaccine.”

Mr Martin met with Mr Biden for just over an hour and the two men discussed the economy, Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement, and the situation in Ukraine, it is understood. They also discussed the undocumented Irish in the US. Mr Biden was seated beside a traditional bowl of shamrock during the meeting.

He thanked the Taoiseach for “amazing” Irish efforts in helping Ukraine and taking in more than 7,000 Ukrainian refugees.

“It speaks so loudly about your principles,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Martin said Ireland supports the “broadest and widest sanctions possible”, and said it was “extremely important that we keep this unity of purpose” in seeking to end the “unjustifiable and immoral war”.

He said Russia’s invasion was inflicting “terrible trauma on the children of Ukraine and their mothers”.

Mr Martin also “reiterated” an invitation for Mr Biden to come visit Ireland, with Mr Biden responding that he would “love to visit”.

The Taoiseach later told reporters that Mr Biden is “anxious” to come to Ireland “when the opportunity arises”.

He added that “of course” he would like him to visit while he is still Taoiseach, before Leo Varadkar takes over as part of the “rotating taoiseach” deal in December this year.

Speaking with journalists virtually following the bilateral meeting, Mr Martin said his meeting with Mr Biden was “not in any way impaired” by being held virtually and that it was “very warm”.

“There was good personal conversation and engagement,” he said.

The Taoiseach will have to host next week’s Cabinet meeting from the US for the second week in a row. He told journalists:
“I feel good. Of course I’m disappointed personally but it’s not the end of the world and we have to keep things in perspective.”

Mr Martin said that for “the next while” he “will be here”.

“We have our cabinet meeting which I chaired from the embassy at the commencement of the week – and little did I think that I’d have another cabinet meeting from here next week, but that’s the way it is.

“I will continue to work and we will manage this and I will be in daily contact with my colleagues and also my officials.

“We’ll take it day by day, step by step.”

When a member of the Irish delegation tested positive as part of usual pre-screening tests for the White House on Wednesday, the delegation was re-tested and Mr Martin then returned a positive PCR test.

He was already seated next to Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the $1,000-per-plate Ireland Funds gala and was escorted away during the starters.

It was left to Ireland’s Ambassador in the US, Dan Mulhall, to break the news when he went up to the podium to collect an award on the Taoiseach’s behalf.

It remains unclear where Mr Martin will isolate for the next nine days as he is currently staying in Blair House, the US President’s guest house.

He is on the US trip with his wife Mary and son Micheál Aodh. The Irish Independent understands that his wife and son are not in isolation.

Separately, Mr Biden told the Speaker’s Lunch in Capitol Hill that Ireland had “taken a hit” for stepping up to help the war in Ukraine.

Mr Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “murderous dictator” and a “pure thug”.

“Everybody talks about Germany having stepped up and changed motions about being more leaning forward, and they have,” said Mr Biden.

“So has Ireland, a neutral country.

“Ireland has stepped up and taken a hit for what they’re doing.”

At a bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach, and addressing the lunch event, the US president paid tribute to Ireland’s efforts to help the crisis in Ukraine by taking in more than 7,000 refugees.

He said that Ireland is paying “a big price” for the sanctions imposed against Russia.

“Now you have Ireland and Great Britain and the Republic standing together against a murderous dictator, a pure thug who was waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine,” he said.

“And by the way, the Republic is paying a big price for this, a big number for supporting the strategy, for supporting the sanctions.

“It’s not a minor contribution that they’re making to this effort, it’s significant.”

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins yesterday sent his “good wishes” to Mr Martin following his positive Covid test, wishing him a speedy recovery.

“I was so very sorry to learn of this news breaking while the Taoiseach was busy representing Ireland in the United States leading up to our National Day,” Mr Higgins said in a statement.

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