Kamala Harris says US’s commitment to Ireland remains ‘steadfast and strong’

Taoiseach tells US vice-president that her election ‘has written history at many levels’

America's commitment to Ireland remains "steadfast and strong", US vice-president Kamala Harris said on Wednesday as she held her first bilateral meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Speaking from her ceremonial office at the White House, Ms Harris said she had been "very excited" to learn that one of her responsibilities as vice-president was to host the annual St Patrick's Day breakfast.

“I only wish that it were in person, but we can hope for next year that we will share a good breakfast together.”

Mr Martin, speaking remotely from Dublin, referenced the election of Mary Robinson as Ireland's first female president.

“Your own election, Madame vice-president, has written history at many levels,” the Taoiseach said, extending an invitation to Ms Harris to visit Ireland.

The former senator spoke about the economic ties between Ireland and America, referencing her own home state of California, the headquarters of many American and Irish technology companies.

Mr Martin referenced Stripe, the payments company founded by the Limerick-born Collison brothers, which was named as the most valuable startup in history this week. The company was an example of "the deep and mutually beneficial, mutually inspiring ties between our nations", he said.


Later the Taoiseach and vice-president held a virtual meeting with the recipients of the Frederick Douglass fellowship, a scholarship programme that offers American students of colour an opportunity to study in Ireland. The programme was established in recognition of Douglass, a famous abolitionist and former slave who was deeply impacted by his four-month trip to Ireland in the 1840s.

Noting that Ireland was at the cusp of famine at the time of Mr Douglass’s visit 175 years ago, Mr Martin said that Ireland was no longer a country of mass emigration.

“The greater flow of people is into Ireland, not out. As a nation we are far stronger for the diversity that now powers and enriches Ireland, just as America is. Ireland is changing in a positive and inclusive way. As we do so we are inspired by Frederick Douglass and what he stood for.”

Addressing the recipients of the scholarship, who appeared on screen virtually, Ms Harris said America was proud of them.

“Hopefully, when you’re in Ireland this summer, walking in the footsteps of that great American Frederick Douglass, remember that you are great…you are walking in great footsteps.

“He imagined, I’m sure, in those days when he was in Ireland, that you would be coming behind him, so I’m counting on all of you to live up to that potential.”

Life and legacy

Later on Wednesday the Friends of Ireland caucus held an online event to honour the life and legacy of John Hume. Among those who participated in the event were Bono, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Bill and Hillary Clinton, former president Mary McAleese and members of the Friends of Ireland group on Capitol Hill, including congressman Richard Neal.

In his address the Taoiseach said: “We would not be where we are today, with a generation of children in Northern Ireland raised in peace, without the tireless, bipartisan US engagement and support that John Hume inspired for the peace process.”

This week PBS News Channel is also running a one-hour special screening of the 2017 Maurice Fitzpatrick film, In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America, to mark St Patrick's Day.