US special envoy to North unlikely to be in place by St Patrick’s Day

White House announces March is Irish-American heritage month

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet President Donald Trump in the White House in just over two weeks’ time. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet President Donald Trump in the White House in just over two weeks’ time. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

It appears increasingly unlikely that a US special envoy to Northern Ireland will be appointed in time for the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed that the State Department was preparing to fill the post which has been unfilled since the election of US president Donald Trump.

It follows calls from a bipartisan group of congressmen for the US State Department to appoint an envoy given the current political impasse in the North and the challenges facing the region over Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet President Donald Trump in the White House in just over two weeks’ time.

But officials have indicated that it is likely that a nominee for the position will not have been agreed by this point. One possibility is that a civil servant from within the State Department would be appointed for the role, who would have the support of both communities in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish governments.

Previous special envoys have included Senator George Mitchell, Richard Haass and former Democratic presidential nominee Gary Hart.

The current political situation in Northern Ireland was raised by Tánaiste Simon Coveney during his meetings with Mr Tillerson and senior advisor Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, last Friday in Washington. It is understood that Mr Coveney also expressed a desire to see an ambassador to Ireland appointed.

Two members of Congress who were centrally involved in US efforts to establish peace in Northern Ireland are to be honoured at the Ireland Funds gala dinner on the eve of the Taoiseach’s meeting at the White House and expected visit to Capitol Hill.

Congressman Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts and Representative Peter King, a Republican representing New York, will be honoured at the dinner which will mark the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

In keeping with previous years, the White House announced on Wednesday that it would designate March as Irish-American heritage month. In a statement the White House said it was “a great opportunity to celebrate the nearly 33 million Americans with Irish ancestry and their tremendous contributions to the betterment of our country”.

The statement continued: “Irish Americans have distinguished themselves in every sector of American life. Many have been among the key architects of our country’s greatness.” It noted that nine of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were of Irish origin.

Mr Varadkar is also expected to meet Vice President Mike Pence at his residence in Washington during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.