Shamrock, and much more beside...
An exceptionally busy international week for Taoiseach Enda Kenny has seen him meet David Cameron in London on British-Irish relations, attend an EU summit in Brussels concentrating on economic recovery and Syria, and then flying to the US for the weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations and his meeting with President Barack Obama in the White House today. Mr Kenny is handling his international agenda well, in the bilateral task of representing Ireland ’s national interests to other leaders and in his multilateral role representing Ireland’s current presidency of the European Union. Today’s meeting with Mr Obama brings several of these major themes together.
Mr Kenny has consistently used these meetings and associated events to highlight Ireland’s economic recovery from property collapse, recession and bailout by the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Rightly, he insists there is still unfinished business in these negotiations concerning Ireland’s debt burden and how it is funded. His case that Ireland deserves a better deal in seeing some of that debt written down, or off altogether, is borne out by EU commitments to break the link between sovereign and bank debt, which some governments are trying to back out of. The rescue effort for Cyprus strengthens his case.
He will bring President Obama up to date on these developments and learn how the administration views US economic recovery. There is a deep common interest between the EU and the US in ensuring a return of growth and employment. Austerity programmes in Europe are tackling budgetary deficits but at a severe cost to economic buoyancy which remains elusive and is becoming increasingly unacceptable politically to disenchanted electorates.
A new transatlantic trade agreement would certainly help in the medium to long term and is being pushed hard during the Irish EU presidency. Syria will also be discussed as the EU reviews lifting arms embargoes on the rebels under pressure from France and the UK. The US supports a more active EU foreign and security policy, which is one of the principal reasons it wants the UK to remain in the EU. From a different perspective Mr Kenny agrees fully that this is also in Ireland’s fundamental interest.
The picture of Ireland’s economic relationship with the US is more healthy, as recent trade and investment flows reveal. They can only be helped by discussing them at this level. With recent emigration from Ireland, albeit more to other English-speaking states like Canada and Australia than the US, Mr Kenny will be interested to hear how the Obama plans for immigration reform are proceeding. He will brief Mr Obama on Northern Ireland, a subject now thankfully not in the foreground but which remains a central theme in Ireland’s strong relationship with the US.