Covid and the North to dominate Taoiseach's virtual meeting with Biden

Covid and the North to dominate Taoiseach's virtual meeting with Biden

Taoiseach Micheál Martin joins the Edward M Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Consulate General of Ireland in Boston, and Embassy of Ireland, USA, for a virtual 2021 St Patrick's Day celebration. Picture: Julien Behal Photography 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden today will be dominated by the fight against Covid-19 and seeking to reduce political tensions in Northern Ireland.

The virtual meeting between the two leaders is the high-point of a series of events Mr Martin is undertaking this week.

The Taoiseach will virtually present President Biden with the traditional Shamrock Bowl, which was delivered to the White House last Friday.

Earlier in the day, he will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

He will also meet members of the US Congress Friends of Ireland Caucus, who mark their 40th anniversary on St Patrick’s Day.

While Covid has put a stop to Mr Martin’s trip to the White House this year, it is worth remembering that the St Patrick’s Day series of events in Washington DC is a relatively new fixture in the Taoiseach’s diary.

Traditions

The first presentation of shamrock to a US president was in 1952, but this was a very different event to the official ceremony that we have come to know.

The tradition started when then-ambassador to Washington John Hearne sent a box of shamrock to Harry S Truman.

As it happened, Truman wasn’t in the White House at the time, but he later sent a message back to Ambassador Hearne in which he said he hoped "relations between the two countries will continue to be on a good and effective level for generations".

The following year, the gift was presented in a cut-glass bowl, supplied free of charge by Waterford Glass, to newly elected president Dwight D Eisenhower.

Bill Clinton admires a shamrock gift, given to him by John Bruton in 1995. Picture: Getty
Bill Clinton admires a shamrock gift, given to him by John Bruton in 1995. Picture: Getty

However, it wasn’t until 1956 that John A Costello as taoiseach presented the national symbol to a US president.The shamrock presentation became a full-blown celebration when John F Kennedy, himself an Irish-American, entered the White House.

The event again lost importance when George Bush was in charge and in 1992 then foreign affairs minister David Andrews was sent to hand over the bowl of shamrock.

This changed when Bill Clinton entered the White House and extended the celebrations. John Bruton did the honours in 1995.

The Troubles also played a part in raising the need to put a meeting with an Irish leader on the agenda.

Former Irish ambassador to Washington Dermot Gallagher was instrumental in pushing for an annual meeting of leaders. 

It was during this time that Albert Reynolds set the shamrock ceremony and the annual St Patrick’s day meeting in stone.

When Donald Trump entered the White House there were doubts over whether the tradition would continue.

However, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar became one of the first world leaders to meet him in the Oval Office.

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