Taoiseach to ask Trump to appoint ambassador to Ireland

Varadkar uses speech to raise issue of protectionism amid EU-US trade war concerns

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will call for a US ambassador to Ireland to be appointed when he meets US president Donald Trump in the White House on Thursday.

Speaking at an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said he would welcome the appointment of an ambassador.

However, he said he does not necessarily think that a special envoy is needed to solve the lengthy political impasse in Northern Ireland, despite the announcement last month by outgoing secretary of state Rex Tillerson that the State Department was preparing to make such an appointment.

He said that "ongoing interest and engagement from the administration, Congress and Irish America" in the North was welcome.


“I’m not sure that he appointment of an envoy is needed at this stage. The two parties came close to an accommodation...I don’t think brokerage is what we need,” the Taoiseach said.

In a sign of frustration with the lack of political progress in the North, the White House has not invited Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald or DUP leader Arlene Foster to the annual St Patrick’s Day reception on Thursday. Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley jnr have been invited and are expected to attend. Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley will also be in attendance.

Mr Varadkar declined to comment on the decision not to invite the two party leaders this week, saying it was a matter for the White House to decide.


He also said he intends to raise the issue of the undocumented Irish during his meeting with Mr Trump, proposing a reciprocal arrangement between Ireland and the US for emigrants to both country. The Government’s US envoy John Deasy will also attend the Oval Office meeting.

Mr Varadkar said there was not a solution on the table yet but there was “a real willingness from the US administration to come to some sort of reciprocal arrangement with Ireland”. This, he said, would recognising that the Irish who are undocumented in the US are group of 10,000 to 15,000 people who “almost all came here legally in the first place”.

He said that the Government was looking at proposing a reciprocal arrangement whereby Americans in Ireland would be given benefits and protections, including possible pathways to citizenship, in exchange for protections for undocumented Irish.

In his speech to the Brookings Institution, Mr Varadakar described the current impasse in Northern Ireland as “corrosive and damaging.”

“It means that there is no effective political engagement on issues of relevance to the lives of the people of Northern Ireland, economically and socially,” he told the audience. “It undermines the operation of other institutions under the Agreement.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking ahead of a forum on the Good Friday Agreement in the Library of Congress tonight, which will also be attended by former Mr Adams and former US envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell.


He also highlighted Ireland’s commitment to Europe, warning of the dangers of protectionism and “transactional diplomacy”.

The Taoiseach said that Ireland was "first and foremost" a European country. "Though our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, may be leaving the European Union, we are a founder member of the single market, our single currency, the euro, and PESCO, Europe's enhanced co-operation in defence and security. We will always be at the heart of Europe, the common European home we helped to build."

Mr Varadkar is expected to raise the Trump administration’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminium imports during his meeting with the US president.

The Taoiseach has warned that Irish products, including Irish whiskey, could eventually by impacted if a trade war was to ensue.

Mr Varadkar also highlighted Ireland’s role in the UN during his Brookings speech, reminding his audience that Ireland is seeking a seat on the UN security council for the 2021-2022 term.

Noting that this year marks the 60th anniversary of unbroken Irish involvement in UK peacekeeping missions, he said that Ireland has a “long tradition of support for the UN on international peace and security issues.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

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