Enda Kenny to defend EU during meeting with Donald Trump
Taoiseach will also raise the plight of undocumented Irish at the White House event
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at his hotel in Washington, DC, the US. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Mr Kenny will become the first EU leader to meet the president after Theresa May following the postponement of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House until Friday.
The US president has been a frequent critic of the EU, describing Brexit as a “great thing” and urging other countries to follow Britain in leaving the bloc.
In particular, he has criticised EU regulations that curtailed his development plans for his golf course in Doonbeg, Co Clare.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Kenny said it was important that the US administration had a “full view” of what Europe stands for.
“European leaders need to be over here talking to Republicans, Democrats and the administration about what membership of the European Union means and the relationship that it can have with as powerful an entity as the United States. It is important that the full story be given here.”
He said Ireland was a symbol of what membership of the EU could achieve.
“I intend to say to the president: ‘If you visited Ireland 50 years ago you would have found a backward, protectionist, introverted, a traditionally-based agri-centre.
“Our membership of the European Union has transformed our country, has opened our potential to the world.’”
He also noted that European Central Bank president Mario Draghi had presented an upbeat assessment of the European economy at the European Council meeting last week, a message he intends to relay to Mr Trump.
Mr Kenny is also expected to highlight the implications of the decision of Britain to leave the EU on the Border and the peace process.
The plight of Ireland’s undocumented citizens living in the US will also be raised in the meetings between the Taoiseach and president Trump, vice-president Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday and Thursday.
“The immigration issue is important not just for Ireland, but for many other countries,” the Taoiseach said, ahead of the two-day programme of events.
“There are approximately 11 million in the United States who do not have appropriate or full documentation and we have always made the point that immigration is about reform.”
He said there had been attempts at reform before, such as the Kennedy-McCain bill and other efforts by different legislators on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve been very careful to distinguish between visa quota and allocations made to us for people yet to come to the United States and a different challenge in respect to those who are here and undocumented and seek a path to legalisation,” he said.
“The visit here symbolises the contribution that the Irish have made over many years to the United States,” he added, noting that George Washington had been an honorary member of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick group, which was founded in 1771.
“In the intervening period at least 22 presidents have had direct connections with Ireland and the contribution made by Irish emigrants over the years has been enormous.”