Micheál Martin had a very busy week prior to positive Covid test

Taoiseach travelled to Paris and London before St Patrick’s Day visit to White House

Taoiseach Micheál Martin had essentially been on the road for nearly a week with a very busy schedule when he tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday night.

He had been in Paris last Thursday and Friday for the Versailles summit which dealt with Ukraine and defence issues.

He then travelled to London where he held talks and watched the Ireland-England rugby international with British prime minister Boris Johnson.

He also attended a reception hosted by the lord mayor of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny, and met business leaders.

On Sunday he attended London’s St Patrick’s Day festival and parade.

The following day, he flew to Washington for several days of events including a key meeting with US president Joe Biden at the White House. This would have been a highlight for Mr Martin as it would have marked his first, and possibly final, occasion in the Oval Office as Taoiseach before he rotates out of the post next December.

On Tuesday, the Taoiseach chaired a virtual Cabinet meeting from the Irish embassy in Washington which was also attended in person by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan. Both men subsequently held a press conference in the driveway of the embassy.

The Taoiseach also held meetings on Capitol Hill, including with senior Irish-American politician Richard Neal about Northern Ireland.

Press conference

On Wednesday he held talks ahead of the Science Foundation Ireland event with the Collison brothers, founders of the Stripe payment system, and leading Irish cancer researcher Prof Donald McDonnell. He also carried out an indoor press conference.

Under White House rules all people planning to enter the complex must be tested for Covid. There were scheduled to be a number of events in the White House on St Patrick’s Day. On Wednesday, Martin, other members of the Irish delegation as well as travelling and resident journalists underwent Covid tests carried out by White House staff.

This took place shortly before they travelled to the National Building Museum in Washington for the Ireland Funds blacktie gala dinner. This was another hugely important event as Biden was to give the main address. The president was in the building for about 45 minutes and briefly spoke with the Taoiseach.

Biden was followed on stage by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi who had been sitting adjacent to the Taoiseach.

Her speech was to end with her calling him up on stage to receive an award. However, Pelosi then introduced Irish ambassador to Washington Dan Mulhall who told the audience the Taoiseach had initially tested negative in an antigen test but when a colleague had tested positive, he underwent a precautionary PCR test which had come back positive.

Guests in the room had noticed the Taoiseach leaving shortly beforehand.

It emerged that a journalist had also tested positive for Covid ahead of the trip to the gala dinner.

Wearing masks

On Thursday, Pelosi said she and the Taoiseach had been wearing masks except when eating. She said Martin had been called out “during the appetiser”. It was only when she was going on stage she had been told that the ambassador would be taking his place.

Pelosi said she was tested very frequently for Covid.

Her spokesman said in consultation with the office of the attending physician she would continue to be tested and follow guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control.

Government sources said the Taoiseach, who spent Wednesday night in Blair House, a US official residence for important guests across the road from the White House, was “feeling well” and was “self-isolating based on public health advice”.

They did not answer questions on whether the Taoiseach was displaying symptoms.

Later, highly placed sources indicated that the Taoiseach would follow US health guidelines which urge no international travel for 10 days after a positive test.

Such a move would see Martin remaining in Washington until March 26th or 27th and see him miss key events such as the Ceremony of Remembrance and Reflection for those who lost their lives to Covid-19 in Dublin on Sunday, and the scheduled meeting of European leaders next week.

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