Kenny says Obama 'reaffirms intention' to return to Ireland

Leaders meet in Oval Office for traditional St Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said US president Barack Obama has 'reaffirmed his intention' to return to Ireland for a second official visit.

The two leaders held the traditional annual St Patrick's Day meeting at the White House in Washington today.

Following a private meeting with the president afterwards, the Taoiseach said Mr Obama had accepted an invitation to visit Ireland again but was unable to say if he would do so during his second term as president.

"There is a standing invitation for the president, the first lady and their family to visit whenever it is appropriate and convenient. I can say to you that he has reaffirmed his intention to come back to Ireland,” Mr Kenny said.

Speaking earlier during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office, the president said that the US “cherishes the opportunity to once a year to reaffirm the incredible bond between our two countries”.

On the fifth visit of a Taoiseach to the Oval Office during Mr Obama's presidency, the US leader described his trip to Ireland in 2011 as "one of the truly wonderful trips I've taken as president of the United States.

“The reason that these meetings go so well is because of the incredible bonds of history between the two countries,” said Mr Obama.

“Obviously, the contribution of Irish Americans to the US is legendary but what is also true is that we have incredibly strong partnership on economic issues, on security issues.

“The Taoiseach has shown great leadership in difficult times in Ireland; and we’re seeing progress in the Irish economy and that’s good for the US economy.”

Mr Obama spoke about US investment in Ireland and referred today's deal between Ryanair and Boeing. "We're selling a whole lot of airplanes to Ireland," he said.

Ryanair announced earlier today the biggest-ever order of Boeing planes by a European airline, saying that it would buy 175 aircraft in what is seen as a major boost for the US company.

“It’s an example of how the progress made in Ireland benefits jobs and business here in the US. Obviously the Taoiseach is very interested as well in continuing to attract investment from the US to Ireland,” said Mr Obama.

This issue would also be a major topic of discussion between the leaders at their meeting after the photo opportunity, said the president.

Mr Obama also spoke about Ireland’s reputation in humanitarian work and peacekeeping.

“Ireland also punches above its weight internationally when it comes to humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping. Irish troops are in many difficult places in the world and provide the kinds of stabilisation and humanitarian effort that makes all the difference and saves lives,” he said.

Mr Obama said that he would to continue to discuss the progress made on the Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland. "We also have to recognise that there is a lot more work to be done before there is true unity," he said.

The president is also meeting Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in the White House today.

Mr Obama said that the annual St Patrick’s Day meeting also gave him “an excuse to break out my green ties”.

"I'm sure we'll have a wonderful lunch on Capitol Hill," said the president, referring to the lunch held on Capitol Hill for the Taoiseach hosted by Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Republican congressman John Boehner from Ohio.

Speaking after the president, the Taoiseach said his meeting with Mr Obama would allow him to brief the president on "the progress being made in challenging times for the Irish Government. "

They would also discuss European Commission 's work on the proposed EU-US trade agreement, said Mr Kenny. He said that he would also brief the president on Northern Ireland, immigration and the "undocumented" illegal Irish immigrants in America, the world economy and the Middle East.

The Taoiseach spoke about the opportunity afforded to successive Irish governments to meet US presidents at the traditional St Patrick’s Day meeting in Washington.

He described it as “this wonderful tradition that American governments over the years have shown to Ireland – this particular and unique relationship between our countries covering many centuries.”

Mr Kenny said the meeting of the leaders created an opportunity to celebrate St Patrick’s week. The two leaders wore green ties and sprigs of shamrock on their lapels as they spoke briefly to the media in the Oval Office of the White House. “I have a second tie for the president if he so wishes,” said Mr Kenny of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Mr Kenny said that he was meeting Mr Obama not just as Taoiseach but as Ireland holds the presidency of the European Union. “I suppose I should say this because I will never get the chance again. It is great to meet on presidential terms – the president of the United States an Irishman and the president of Europe an Irishman," he said.

He extended an open invitation to the president to return to Ireland. “Maybe the next time when our economies are moving in a more positive direeciton we might actually have time to take out sticks on the golf course,” said the Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny extended good wishes to the president, his wife Michelle and their two daughers, Sasha and Malia. “We wish the president continued success and good fortune in the very onerous responsibilities on his shoulders as the leader of the free world. It is a pleasure and a privilege to meet you,” he said.