Pence pledges to ‘reaffirm US commitment’ to peace process

US vice-president praises ‘indelible mark on American history’ made by Irish emigrants

US vice-president Mike Pence at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

US vice-president Mike Pence at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

US vice-president Mike Pence has pledged to “reaffirm the United States’ enduring commitment to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the peace process,” as he addressed the annual Ireland Funds dinner in Washington last night.

Mr Pence, whose grandfather was born in Co Sligo, was honoured by the association on Wednesday evening in Washington at a gala dinner to mark the organisation’s 25 year anniversary.

He said the invitation to attend the dinner was the first invitation he had received as US vice-president and the first he accepted.

“It is hard to describe what a privilege it is for me and my family to join you here tonight at the America Ireland Funds 25th anniversary dinner,” he said.

While Mr Pence spoke at length about the history of Irish emigration to America, he did not touch on US president Donald Trump’s controversial policies on immigration. Noting that four of the founding fathers at the constitutional convention were Irish-American, he said the Irish have left “an indelible mark on the history of this country for the benefit of the American people and for the benefit of the world.”

“We may be separated by an ocean but the American people have always been bound by a kinship to the Irish people and we always will,” he said, adding that the bond between the people of Ireland and the people of America stretches back into the mists of American history.

Mr Pence, whose two sisters also attended the event, recounted how his grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1923. He also recalled at length his own visits to Co Sligo and Co Clare.

The dinner was attended by 35 members of Congress, including House minority leader Nancy Pelsosi. Ian Paisley junior was also present.

Former senator George Mitchell, a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, also addressed the gathering at the National Museum Building in Washington, which was attended by the Taoiseach and his wife, Fionnuala.

In an implicit criticism of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration, Mr Mitchell said America should focus on “who we want to enter and not just who he want to keep out or throw out.”

He said: “From the very beginning our country has been enriched by new people, new ideas, new vision new energy.”

He noted that most of those behind America’s most successful companies including Apple, Amazon and Google had parents who were born abroad.

Ireland’s outgoing Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson was also honoured at the dinner, which took place ahead of Thursday’s visit by Mr Kenny to the White House.

Thursday’s schedule begins with a breakfast at the residence of Mr Pence before Mr Kenny travels to the White House for a meeting in the Oval Office.

Mr Kenny and his wife Fionnuala will then attend the speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill with House speaker Paul Ryan and Mr Trump.

The annual shamrock ceremony and reception will take place in the afternoon in the White House, before a reception in the evening.