St Patrick’s Day meeting between Biden and Martin expected to be virtual

Taoiseach says building on US-Irish relations more important than physical visit to Washington

The White House is said to have assured Irish officials that if the events do have to take place virtually, it is just due to the pandemic and does not set a precedent for future years. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The White House is said to have assured Irish officials that if the events do have to take place virtually, it is just due to the pandemic and does not set a precedent for future years. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government is expecting a virtual St Patrick’s Day meeting between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and US president Joe Biden this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Taoiseach stressed on Friday that building on US-Irish relations was more important than a physical visit to Washington DC.

“Irish and US officials are in ongoing contact about the arrangements for the traditional marking of St Patrick’s Day and the close Ireland-US relations,” a Government spokesman said. “These arrangements will take full account of the challenges of Covid and we expect that on this occasion the tradition will be upheld via a programme of virtual events.”

The Irish Times understands that preliminary discussions between Irish officials and the White House led to a virtual meeting being seen as the most likely outcome.

A source familiar with those talks said various virtual engagements are being explored, including a bilateral meeting between Mr Martin and Mr Biden.

A virtual event with US vice-president Kamala Harris is also under consideration as Taoisigh travelling to Washington usually attend a breakfast at the Vice-President’s residence.

There are also hopes that a virtual meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress can be arranged.

There is also the possibility a virtual shamrock ceremony would be held at some point in the day where Mr Martin and Mr Biden would offer public remarks.

The White House is said to have assured Irish officials that if the events do have to take place virtually, it is just due to the pandemic and does not set a precedent for future years.

Building relations

Speaking during a visit to a new vaccination centre at Cork City Hall, Mr Martin said he expects a decision to be taken in the coming days.

“Officials from both administrations have been engaging in terms of what is the optimum way of doing that this year in the context of Covid-19,” he said.

“It is the number one challenge facing President Biden and it is our number one challenge here. What matters to us is not so much the location of how we mark it but rather the substance of the relationship between our two administrations.

“That is the emphasis of the US administration as well because there are very strong economic dimensions to this as well - the undocumented in America that we constantly advocate for, developing partnerships with members of the Biden administration,” said Mr Martin.

“I would be fairly relaxed about the situation in terms of marking March 17th in that we are very conscious of the challenges facing the new administration - the fact they have a real issue in terms of dealing with Covid-19 given what they have inherited and the prevalence of the disease in the US.”

“The officials have been engaged and very shortly we will agree what is the optimal way of marking St Patrick’s Day this year. As well as the substance of that - very shortly we will bring this to a conclusion as to how we mark it.”

Asked if he would be prepared to be publicly vaccinated against Covid-19 if he does decide to go to the US, Mr Martin said that no decision has been taken.

“Cabinet has made no decision as regards the timing of vaccines - we are very clear that the critical cohorts have to be vaccinated first,” said Mr Martin, adding that he had no difficulty having his vaccination done publicly to reassure the public about the safety of the inoculation regime.

There is as yet no official protocol saying that a vaccination is required for foreign visitors to the White House.