Trump indicates he may visit Ireland as early as next year
The Border after Brexit one of the issues discussed by Varadkar and Trump at White House
Leo Varadkar, Donald Trump, House speaker Paul Ryan (right), and Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, after the Friends of Ireland lunch in Washington DC. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
US president Donald Trump indicated that he may visit Ireland as early as next year as he warmly welcomed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the White House on Thursday.
Speaking in the Oval Office alongside the Taoiseach, Mr Trump said he looked forward to a visit to Ireland. “It’s a great country,” he said, describing the Irish as “wonderful people”.
When asked by reporters if he would visit the Northern Ireland Border, Mr Trump replied: “I’d go...I guess I have received a formal invitation.”
“Well, that’s an interesting border, also. We have two interesting borders. One happens to be where you are, right? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” he said.
The situation in Ireland regarding the Border after Brexit was one of the issues discussed by Mr Varadkar and the US president during their first face to face meeting at the White House.
“The president was very aware of the issues that could affect Northern Ireland if there is a return to a hard border, and I think will be very much on our side in working for a solution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” the Taoiseach said after the meeting.
However, he said there was no specific date set for Mr Trump to visit Ireland.
Mr Varadkar also raised the current situation in the North during a Friends of Ireland lunch at Capitol Hill, which was attended by senior Republicans including Mr Trump, vice-president Mike Pence, and House speaker Paul Ryan.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley and Ian Paisley jnr were also at the lunch.
Addressing the attendees, Mr Varadkar thanked Congress and the White House for their “indispensable and steadfast support for the Northern Ireland peace process over the years”,
“The members of the Friends of Ireland caucus, so ably led by Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal, have played a vital role, and the United States has been our steadfast partner,” he said.
“I know that you continue to stand resolutely with us as we work to ensure the beating heart of the Good Friday Agreement – its institutions – are restored and function properly – a power-sharing executive, a cross-community assembly, and North-South bodies.”
As expected, there was no announcement regarding the appointment of a Northern Ireland envoy on Thursday, thought the US state department has indicated that the position will be filled despite the surprise departure of Rex Tillerson.
Mr Trump also alluded to Ireland’s corporate tax rates as he began his speech at the Capitol Hill lunch. “You’re a tough one to compete with on the taxes,” he joked.
Other issues discussed during the Oval Office meeting included trade, including the US president’s recent decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports into Ireland.
“The president has enormous concerns that the United States isn’t being treated fairly when it comes to trade by China and by Europe,” Mr Varadkar said after the meeting. “I put across the view that maybe the best way to resolve that is for a new deal, a new trade deal between America and Europe, and the president seemed very open to that.”
Mr Trump has previously voiced his opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed trade deal between the US and the EU.
Later, during the speaker’s lunch at Capitol Hill, Mr Ryan joked about the trade issue when he announced that Guinness was available at the lunch.
“The Guinness does taste better in Ireland but I realise this isn’t the year to bring up trade issues,” he said, as he glanced over at Mr Trump.
Mr Ryan has publicly clashed with Mr Trump about the recently-announced tariffs, and opposes the administration’s move to tax imports of steel and aluminium.