Beaming Taoiseach fed and feted as he delivers ‘big message’ to Capitol Hill elite

Enda Kenny used occasion to have a right old go on the stalled immigration issue

 Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala Kenny  with US president Barack Obama at a lunch held in the Taoiseach’s honour in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Marty Katz

Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala Kenny with US president Barack Obama at a lunch held in the Taoiseach’s honour in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Marty Katz

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

In a hushed Oval Office yesterday, Barack Obama was asked he if he was planning a return trip to Ireland. Though he didn’t say when, he said he’d love to “say hi to the folks back in Moneygall”.

Beside him stood a beaming Taoiseach, fresh from a precious White House tête-à-tête with Mr Obama. Shoes extra-shined, crisp of shirt and green of tie, Enda Kenny was already well-fed from breakfast at the comely official residence of vice-president Joe Biden. It was chilly enough out there but Fionnuala Kenny noted it was not raining.

“Are you as tired as I am of winter?” asked Joe, as an army violinist played her tune. Not a bit of it. The Taoiseach showed no sign of any fatigue after a three-speech Thursday in which in which he talked at length for Ireland before both his lunch and his dinner.

‘Big message’

By his own account, Kenny came to Washington for St Patrick’s Day with “a big message from a small country”. In his first outing on Thursday morning, the lesson learned from Ireland’s brush with economic disaster was a Government trying to fix a crisis had to level with the people. In the second, confidence was key. “It does work if you apply yourself right to it,” the Taoiseach said.

Cometh his White House moment yesterday and it was clear news of Ireland’s nascent turnaround has reached the inner sanctum of American power.

“It required some very tough decisions that Taoiseach Kenny was willing to take but what we have now seen is an Ireland emerge from its assistance programme in a much stronger position on the global stage and the global markets,” said Obama.

Like Biden before him, the president expressed unhappiness with the stalled political talks in the North and he had firm words too over Vladimir Putin’s encroachment into Crimea. “The United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there would be consequences if in fact that sovereignty continues to be violated.”

If the situation in Ukraine presents a major conundrum for Obama, he appeared laid back and relaxed alongside the Taoiseach. “In addition to sharing values and sharing a commitment to democracy we also share these family ties that go back generations.”

Immigration concessions

The message from Kenny was familiar enough, although he took the opportunity to restate his noble claim for immigration concessions from a deadlocked Capitol Hill.

This is hardly a new theme at this time of year, though the Taoiseach was a little more forceful this time around. Although he expressed hope for progress before electioneering begins in earnest for mid-term polls in November, the unavoidable reality is that this vexed question remains beholden to arcane, bitter politicking between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

So it was there to which the Kenny entourage dashed next, flanked by a noisy motorcade of police outriders and insistent secret service agents.

If the Hill itself wasn’t quite a bedecked in green, a battalion of white-clad waiters carrying half-full glasses of lunchtime stout in Statuary Hall said it all.

On the menu was pan-seared Chilean sea bass, sweet corn, lentils, heirloom tomatoes, and citrus beurre blanc. Nice.

As for the Taoiseach himself, he had a right old go on the immigration question, saying in his speech the time for resolute action is nigh. It was the same in private conversation, apparently. Speaker of the House John Boehner said he had been “worked over” by Kenny, man of the hour in DC.

At the Shamrock ceremony last night, Obama wished the Irish bestof luck in Paris today and paid tribute to the legendary Brian O’Driscoll. Then he saluted the gathering with a glass of water, prompting a pithy response from the Taoiseach. “Thank you for the toast Mr President. I didn’t think that austerity was biting this far.”

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