Taoiseach on US tour: Fewer tales of hardship, more ginger juice

Varadkar meets tech companies and pays tribute to Harvey Milk in San Francisco

It’s a tough act to follow. Enda Kenny may not have been the perfect Statesman but, when it came to Irish-American schmaltz, the former taoiseach was hard to beat.

This week Leo Varadkar arrived in the United States for his first official visit to the country as Taoiseach.

While there was less of the teary-eyed tales of hardship and emigration from the motherland that characterised Kenny’s speeches in America, Mr Varadkar did indulge in a bit of nostalgia as he talked about the history of the Irish in Seattle and San Francisco.

That Varadkar chose the West Coast as the destination for his first US visit was significant as he tries to put his own stamp on Irish-American relations.


Most importantly, it allowed him to defer what is becoming every head of state’s worst nightmare – how to deal with Donald Trump. For that, we’ll have to wait until March.

Prioritising connections

With US multinationals based on the West Coast representing a quarter of all American investment into Ireland, prioritising connections there makes sense.

Given President Trump’s alarming interest in Ireland of late, including his “fake news” allegations – to quote the Taoiseach – that Ireland’s corporate tax rate is dropping to 8 per cent, it was important to set the record straight.

During a three-day visit, and flanked by the indefatigable IDA chief Martin Shanahan, he met with most of the large US tech companies with an Irish presence including Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

At Facebook’s sprawling site in Silicon Valley, the Taoiseach was shown around the company’s headquarters, including the 9-acre rooftop garden complete with running track, deckchairs and juice bars.

He stopped for a ginger juice shot and a chocolate cookie on the way to meet Facebook’s wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg who confirmed that up to 800 jobs are heading for Ireland next year.

Twin issues

Things were less rosy over at Apple, where the twin issues of €13 billion in unclaimed state aid and the stalled Athenry project loomed over proceedings.

Chief executive Tim Cook greeted the Taoiseach outside the office and congratulated him on his relatively new position.

But while it was all smiles for the cameras, inside the meeting the Apple boss failed to give longed-for assurances that the planned data centre in Athenry was going ahead.

Having met with Irish “Googlers” at Google’s headquarters, it was off to San Francisco where the Taoiseach was given the key to the city by Mayor Ed Lee.

At a reception in the lavish surroundings of City Hall, Mr Varadkar paid tribute to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in California who was murdered in 1978. And as he spoke about being the first gay Taoiseach in Ireland, the crowd burst into applause.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent