St Patrick’s Day celebrations are scheduled to go ahead this week in Washington, despite the threat of the coronavirus, though President Donald Trump will skip the annual lunch on Capitol Hill.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to hold a series of engagements in New York on Tuesday in connection with Ireland’s bid for a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council. He will then travel to Washington, where events are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, including a meeting with Mr Trump in the Oval Office and the shamrock presentation ceremony later in the day.
But in a break with tradition, Mr Trump and vice-president Mike Pence will boycott the annual speaker’s lunch in the US Capitol because of tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Since the speaker has chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric, the president will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity, and will instead celebrate the rich history and strong ties between the United States and Ireland at the White House on March 12th,” a White House spokesman said, noting that “the relationship between our two countries has never been stronger”.
The president traditionally attends the lunch on Capitol Hill, which is hosted by the house speaker – one of the rare times in the year that the president visits Congress.
The lunch is traditionally an opportunity for politicians from both political parties to put aside their political differences and celebrate Irish-American heritage. But the relationship between Mr Trump and Ms Pelosi is at a low point.
Mr Trump’s last interaction with the house speaker occurred at the president’s annual state of the union address to Congress in late February during his impeachment trial, when the president appeared to snub Ms Pelosi’s offer of a handshake, and Ms Pelosi tore up pages of his speech when he finished his address.
The development comes as Mr Trump named Mick Mulvaney as the new special envoy to Northern Ireland. On Twitter on Friday night, Mr Trump announced that Mr Mulvaney would be replaced by Republican congressman Mark Meadows as White House chief of staff. It is understood that Mr Mulvaney, who has a long-standing interest in Ireland and is a regular visitor to the country, was interested in the position for some time.
A spokesman for the Irish Embassy in Washington welcomed the news of the appointment. “This is a positive development demonstrating the United States’ long-standing commitment to the peace process. Mick Mulvaney has always had a great personal interest in Northern Ireland and we look forward to continuing to work with him on this and other issues.”
Separately, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald announced she would not travel to Washington as planned next week, after the school attended by her children was shut due to the coronavirus.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, and Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, will travel to the US capital for several events.
Mr Varadkar is also scheduled to have breakfast with Mr Pence at his residence in Washington on Thursday morning and has a series of engagements in the US capital on Wednesday.