Biden says Taoiseach gave ‘devastating’ critique of US Covid policy

Micheál Martin is alleged to have said America ‘can’t lead’ after Trump’s handling of pandemic

US president Joe Biden has said remarks made by Taoiseach Micheál Martin brought home to him how badly Donald Trump had handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Biden told The New York Times in an interview that the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19 had threatened to take away America’s status as the world’s leading nation.

"We're kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China, " Mr Biden said. "The most devastating comment made after I was elected — it wasn't so much about me — but it was by the Irish taoiseach" — prime minister — "saying that 'Well, America can't lead. They can't even get their arms around Covid.'"

The comments are something of a mystery as there is no public record of the Taoiseach saying such a thing, although it is possible they were said privately.

A search on the Nexis media archive of major US news outlets do not reveal any comments similar to those attributed to the Taoiseach by President Biden.

The Government made no official comment on the matter on Friday.

Mr Biden told New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks that human dignity was important to Irish people because of their historical experiences.

“I think the Irish most often use the world ‘dignity’ of any other group of people,” he said. “I think it’s because when you’ve been deprived of dignity you put a high, high premium on it.”

Alluding to the waves of Irish emigration to the United States in the mid 19th century, he talked about how white Protestants of English origin looked down on the Catholic Irish.

“To be Irish was to be second class,” he recalls. “The English owned the town.”

Mr Biden's great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt left Ireland in the autumn of 1850 to settle in America.

Mr Biden's other great-great grandfather was Owen Finnegan, from the Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth. He married Jean Boyle in 1839. The first four children were born there, including James Finnegan in 1840, Mr Biden's great grandfather.

In the interview, Mr Biden spoke of how 20th century Catholic social teaching influenced his worldview. He said that his father loved the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain with his emphasis on social solidarity and the interdependence of people.

The world was experiencing a "fourth industrial revolution", Mr Biden said, and the huge spending programme approved by Congress reflected that.

“I think circumstances have changed drastically. We’re at a genuine inflection point in history.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

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