The Cable

Irish PM Kenny Meets Trump Ahead of St. Patrick’s Day

Kenny raises issue of undocumented Irish, Pence recalls his Irish grandfather.

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A day before St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. On the surface, it was a jolly, holiday-themed visit.

But there were tensions simmering beneath the surface. Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s trip to the Oval Office — his seventh — was highly anticipated in Ireland, in no small part because he pledged to raise the issue of undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States with Trump. There are 50,000 undocumented Irish living in America (perhaps why Ireland was the third most popular place in which to look for jobs after Trump’s election), and Kenny had earlier said raising their “plight” would be an “absolute priority.” He said he intended to “renew the strong case on behalf of the hard-working, tax-paying Irish people in the United States who for too long now have been living in the shadows, and want nothing more than to continue making their contribution to this great country.”

That collides with much of the language Trump uses concerning immigration. Ahead of the visit, Kenny said that he believes “that a U.S. immigration system that addresses the needs of the undocumented Irish, and provides for future legal flows, will be of huge benefit to America.”

It remains to be seen whether Trump will hear that message. He’s currently embroiled in yet another legal immigration quagmire after his second attempt at implementing a travel ban.

While Trump was campaigning for president, Kenny accused him of using “racist and dangerous language.” But he struck a more cordial tone on Wednesday before meeting Trump, walking back his remarks with some classic rhetorical jiu jitsu.

“I did not refer to the person, the now president, as being racist. My comment was in respect of his language,” Kenny said. “Language and words can be used by people in many regards…My comment was when he was running as a candidate in respect of the election to be held,” he added.

If it was on Trump’s mind at all, the backtrack appeared to have worked. Their meetings Thursday struck a happy tone. At a toast following the Oval Office meeting, Trump said Kenny is his “new friend, great guy.”

Kenny, for his part, heard Trump’s musings on his love for the Emerald Isle and pledged to visit again — though this time it wouldn’t be to buy another golf resort and build a wall around it. “I love Ireland. I really love Ireland. I’ll be back,” Trump said, either cheerfully or ominously.

He then quoted an Irish proverb, saying “This is a good one … ‘Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.’ We know that, politically speaking.”

Pence joined Kenny for both an Ireland Funds America gala dinner and a breakfast, said that he thought of his Irish grandfather on Inauguration Day — because if there’s one thing the Irish love, it’s Americans reminding them that a distant relative of theirs came from Ireland.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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