Yesterday President Trump met with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It was an old tradition, involving an evening shamrock ceremony, in which Kenny presented Trump with a bowl of the signature Irish plant.
In political comments to Trump, he urged the President to consider softening regulations on illegal Irish immigrants. He asked the government to instead help them as they just “want to make America great.” An estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish residents live in the United States. Kenny was reported to have even momentarily choked up when discussing the issue that has “long preoccupied Irish officials.”
“This is what I said to your predecessor on a number of occasions – we would like this to be sorted,” Kenny told Trump.
Kenny explained that while he would like the cases of illegal immigrants dealt with, he hoped the U.S. would take a softer approach to illegal Irish workers.
“It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can. And that’s what people want,” Kenny told Trump.
The day was marked with many events and speeches. During one, Kenny gave a nod of remembrance to the man whom the festivities were supposed to be centered around. “It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick and his legacy. He, too, of course, was an immigrant,” Kenny reminded everyone.
These comments came at a critical time. Earlier in the day, two federal courts moved to block Trump’s travel ban, aimed at six Muslim-majority countries. Kenny also mentioned that Ireland’s political climate remains uncertain with Britain’s latest decision to leave the European Union. Ireland will reportedly remain “a committed member,” of the 28 nation conglomerate. Trump has been supportive of “Brexit,”—Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying it would probably “end up being a great thing.” Kenny stated to reporters that in private talks with Trump, he stressed to the president the need for the European Union.
Kenny told reporters that while he remains loyal to the European Union, Ireland is prepared to work with the administration to come to agreements on trade and immigration. The travel ban was never specifically mentioned in the talks. Kenny said that the pair had discussed in a “very constructive fashion, the relationship between Ireland and the United States.”
In a luncheon and a traditional evening ceremony, the pair celebrated their otherwise good relationship, regardless of political differences. Trump, who owns a golf course in Ireland, told him during a photo op, “”I love Ireland, I really love Ireland … I’ll be back.”
Kenny, known for his wit, also ribbed the President’s propensity to go off on tangents or make off the cuff remarks during speeches by saying, “They say the Irish have the capacity to change everything,” he mused. “I just saw the President of the United States read from his script—entirely.”
Trump called Kenny, “a new friend,” and praised Ireland’s loyalty to the U.S. with a proverb. Kenny described the overall meeting as, “a good, friendly, constructive engagement.” Kenny, in the past, was critical of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, calling some of his comments, “racist and dangerous.” But he backpedalled after the fact, telling reporters that candidate Trump was different and was not “related to this personality.”
At one point during the meeting a reporter asked Trump if he was aware of the Prime Minister’s earlier comments of him. The two men exchanged awkward smiles and a White House Staffer quickly changed the subject.
In other activities throughout the day, Vice President Mike Pence publicly mentioned his grandfather was an Irish immigrant. He moved to the United States in 1923. Kenny presented Pence with a school roll book from County Silgo with his grandfather’s name in it. He told Pence,”Ireland took special pride in the fact that, for the first time in the history of this great republic, one Irish American has succeeded another in the office of vice president.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden is also of Irish descent, on his mother’s side. The entire visit, Kenny had remarked earlier to the Irish media, was to address the topic of immigration. It was woven throughout the fabric of the day in various comments and speeches.
In Kenny’s closing public remarks to the President he was friendly, “Congratulations on your election,” he said. “You beat them all.”
Overall, the encounter seemed to be similar to Trump’s other introduction to foreign heads-of-state. An awkward beginning, as the leader responds to the public image, but warmth by the day’s end.