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St Patrick’s Day trade missions will be curtailed due to virus threat


Short trip: Leo Varadkar is expected to meet Donald Trump. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Short trip: Leo Varadkar is expected to meet Donald Trump. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Short trip: Leo Varadkar is expected to meet Donald Trump. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Government's annual St Patrick's Day trade mission is expected to be significantly curtailed this year due to the increasing threat of the coronavirus.

The on-going government formation talks also mean fewer ministers will be sent abroad to represent Ireland. The move comes as fears grow over the spread of the virus across Europe.

A senior Government source said the trade mission was "the last thing" on their minds with weeks to go before ministers are due to jet off.

The source said the coronavirus will "come into consideration" when the Department of Foreign Affairs is deciding where ministers will go.

"It [St Patrick's Day] is not at the top of the list when we are dealing with Brexit, the coronavirus, and there is a vote for Taoiseach next week," the source added.

The number of foreign visits will be reduced in the same way they were during government formation talks in 2016, the source said.

The exact destinations have yet to be decided but it is unlikely delegations will be sent to areas where there are major outbreaks of the coronavirus.

In previous years, the St Patrick's Day travel plans were published by late January or early February but the final list has yet to be compiled with ministers expected to leave in two weeks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will travel to New York and Washington where he will meet US President Donald Trump in the White House for the third time. Speaking in the Dáil last week, Mr Varadkar said: "If a new government is not elected on March 5, we will undertake official events associated with St Patrick's Day and I will travel to the White House and Capitol Hill."

He added: "It will be a shortened trip this year in any case because, if still in office, I will need to return for the March meeting of the European Council, which will be one of the most important in recent memory."

Mr Varadkar was referring to the EU Council summit beginning on March 26 where European leaders will discuss the framework for the next round of Brexit negotiations.

During the election campaign Mr Varadkar was critical of Mr Trump. During a TV debate he referenced the president when he noted that "all change isn't for the better"

In 2016, Enda Kenny, who was also then a caretaker Taoiseach, spent just one day in the US for St Patrick's Day when he met then President Barrack Obama.

Mr Varadkar is expected to spend around three days in the US as part of his St Patrick's Day visit.

Last year, the Government sent 36 ministers to events across the globe, including eight who were sent to the US. Several ministers who lost their seats in the general election are not expected to be sent abroad.

Irish Independent

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