US president Donald Trump has said he will visit Ireland this year.
Speaking alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ahead of a bilateral meeting between the two in the Oval Office in Washington, DC, as part of the Taoiseach's St Patrick's Day trip to the US, Mr Trump said that he would visit this year, mentioning Doonbeg in particular.
“I will be coming at some point this year. I missed it last year, and I would have loved to have been there. It’s a special place and I have a very warm spot for Doonbeg, I will tell you that. It is just a great place,” he said.
He said it was an honour to host Leo Varadkar for a second time at the White House.
“It is really great to have the prime minister of Ireland with us,” he said, saying that he was “fast friends” with the Taoiseach. He also noted that the Taoiseach was very popular in Ireland: “The people love him – that’s very important.”
On the issue of the appointment of a US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mr Trump suggested that a decision on the issue could be imminent. "I may very well be doing that."
Mr Trump also expressed reluctance to speak about Brexit.
“I’m not going to comment on Brexit. I can tell you it’s a very complex thing that’s going on now. It’s tearing the country apart, it’s tearing a lot of countries apart. It is a shame that it has to be that way,” he said.
Later when pressed he clarified his position on Brexit. “It wasn’t that I was a supporter, I predicted that it was going to happen,” he said.
He said that British prime minister Theresa May had declined to take his advice on the issue. “I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner frankly . . .
“They could have got the vote, and it should have gone smoothly but unfortunately it didn’t.”
While he indicated a second vote on Brexit might be possible at this point, he said such a move would be unfair.
He said that Brexit was a “very complex thing”, and “the Border with Ireland is one of the complex things”.
He said that, like Ireland, the US had a border problem, but of a different kind, citing the immigration situation at the southern border.
In brief comments at the beginning of the meeting, Mr Varadkar thanked Mr Trump for his work easing sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which helped saved hundreds of jobs in Aughinish Alumina in Limerick.
“They don’t know about that,” said Mr Trump, gesturing to the media. “They do now,” said Mr Varadkar.
Just hours before his meeting with Mr Varadkar, the US president raised eyebrows with a tweet in which he indicated his support for a US-UK trade deal after the UK leaves the EU.
Tweeting on Thursday morning, he said: "My Administration looks forward to negotiating a large-scale Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. The potential is unlimited!
Senior figures in Congress, including House ways and means committee chairman Richard Neal, have threatened to block any future trade deal with the UK if peace in Northern Ireland is jeopardised by Brexit.
Mr Varadkar said on Wednesday that he would like to see a trade deal between the EU and the US agreed before any trade deal between the US and Britain.
Mr Trump has expressed his opposition to the EU on several occasions and was a supporter of Brexit, in part due to his friendship with former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
While the UK may not begin trade negotiations with a third country before it leaves the EU, informal discussions between the two countries have already begun.
Mr Trump is due to travel to Capitol Hill at lunchtime local time to attend the annual Speaker's Lunch to celebrate St Patrick's Day, which will be hosted by Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Varadkar attended a breakfast at the residence of vice-president Mike Pence.
In a short speech delivered beside the vice-president, the Taoiseach reflected on his ambition to become a politician when he was younger.
“I also knew at the time that I lived in a country where if I tried to be myself at the time it would have broken laws, but today that has all changed. I stand here as the leader of my country, flawed and human, judged by my political actions, and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs.”
“We are, after all, all God’s children.” Mr Varadkar said.
He invited Mr Pence and his family to visit him at his home in Ireland, with the vice-president confirming that he was in the process of planning a trip to Ireland.
Mr Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett were welcomed by the vice-president and his sister Anne, as his wife Karen was attending the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Pence also said that St Patrick’s Day offered an opportunity to reflect on Ireland’s contribution to America, noting Ireland and the US’s economic ties.
“This administration is committed to growing these ties . . . standing by the Irish Republic as the UK continues to work through Brexit,” Mr Pence said.
He said that on the day he took the oath of office as vice-president he thought of his Irish grandfather who arrived through Ellis Island.
“He was proud of being American but I can still hear that Irish brogue,” he said.
Mr Varadkar addressed the Ireland Funds’ gala dinner on Wednesday night, where he spoke of the contribution of Irish and Irish-American women to society throughout history. The philanthropic organisation honoured four Irish and Irish-American women who have made impacts in their respective fields.
Gail Slater, the Dublin-born lawyer who is special assistant to Mr Trump on technology, was honoured. So too was Norah O'Donnell, the co-host of CBS's This Morning programme, and a proud Irish-American. New Hampshire senator and former governor Jeanne Shaheen received an award for her contribution to government and public service, while Tyrone native Sarah Friar, the chief executive of social networking service Nextdoor, was recognised for her business leadership, describing how her upbringing in Northern Ireland had informed her work.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald were also in attendance.
The Embassy of Ireland in Washington hosted an exhibition at last night’s event, titled: “Blazing a Trail: Irish Women in America.” The exhibition showcased the achievements of significant Irish and Irish-American women throughout history, part of a broader emphasis on women’s history by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
In a speech to attendees Mr Varadkar addressed the issue of Brexit. "Sixteen days from Brexit, the date the UK exits the EU, we need our friends over here in the United States more than ever," he said. "Our message on this trip is a simple one. We are fully committed to our membership of the EU, and see our place at the heart of the common European home we helped to build.
“We want to maintain and enhance our transatlantic relationship, and we are determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland.”
“Whatever happens with Brexit, we are sure about our place in the world,” he concluded. “We know where we are going, and we are confident about the future.”