Remarks by Vice President Harris And Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Ireland Before St. Patrick’s Day Welcome Breakfast
Vice President’s Residence
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Good morning, everyone. Good morning and welcome and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
I am honored — Doug and I — the Second Gentleman — are honored to welcome the Taoiseach and Mr. Barrett to the Vice President’s Residence. You’ve been here before. It is a great honor of ours, as the United States, to know that we have an enduring relationship not only with Ireland but with its leaders. And so welcome to you both. Welcome to you both.
We are joined today by many dignitaries, including a member of the Cabinet: Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration, Secretary McDonough. And to all of you, welcome, welcome, welcome.
I am excited that we are resuming this tradition of recognizing and welcoming the Taoiseach on the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day to the United States.
As you all know, Vice President Biden — this was one of his most particular joys as Vice President. (Laughter.) And as you all know, he is quite exuberant in that joy, and I now have caught the bug. (Laughter and applause.)
And our two countries, as we know — and the Taoiseach and I were able to discuss a bit before we came in — our two nations have such a deep, long, and enduring history together. And that is through our people, and it is through our traditions, and it is through our common values and priorities as it relates to international rules and norms and where we stand in solidarity on so many issues — including, most recently, the issue of Ukraine and what we must do to stand together, joined with our allies, to speak out against Russia’s unprovoked aggressions in Ukraine.
When I think of the relationship between our nations, we also — and the President will speak about this later today when he meets with the Taoiseach — cherish the hard-earned and -won peace in Northern Ireland from the Good Friday Agreement. And it marks its anniversary, of course, this April. And it is something that we take quite seriously and the President has been quite outspoken about, in terms of our commitment.
And as President Biden has said, the Windsor Framework is an essential step to ensure peace and progress and to ensure that it is strengthened and preserved.
I know that the President will discuss these matters with you later. And as you and I spoke privately, again, he takes these issues very seriously.
Today is also, of course, a day to celebrate the longstanding relationships and the great pride that we, as Americans, take in our Irish roots. (Laughter.)
In the mid-19th century, thousands of Irish immigrants made their way — I will speak now as a point of personal privilege — made their way to California — (laughter) — during the Gold Rush.
And as many of you know, most of my career I spent in San Francisco, which has a long and strong pride in its Irish roots. And — and I will say that the Irish and the immigrants who came generations ago have shaped the history and the culture of the United States, but I will speak in particular about California and its impact there.
In 1867, many of you may know, more than a decade before New York or Boston elected an Irish mayor, San Francisco elected Frank McCoppin of County Longford. (Applause.) Yes, I am happy to educate everyone here — (laughs) — about these relationships.
And one of my favorite stories is of Kate Kennedy. Originally from County Meath, she led the Equal Pay for Equal Work campaign in 1874 in California. And, of course, just this week — or last week — we here in the United States celebrated Equal Pay Day. Longstanding relationships and commitment based on common values and priorities.
And let us fast forward, then, to 2023. Again, I will make a California reference. (Laughter.) At the Oscars earlier this week, Irish talent was nominated for 14 awards and took home two wins.
And then, yesterday, it is my understanding the Taoiseach visited my alma mater, Howard University, to celebrate and strengthen programs between the students there and the Smurfit Business School in Dublin.
So, through this and many other exchanges, including the — the pride that both Ireland and the United States take in the relationship between Frederick Douglass and Ireland, we show that through the years, through generations, this is a strong and enduring relationship that makes us all very proud.
And so, with that, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I will now raise a glass to toast the Taoiseach, Mr. Barrett, and all of you on St. Patrick’s Day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Cheers.
(A toast is offered.)
Okay, the Taoiseach is now going to speak. Thank you.
TAOISEACH VARADKAR: Good morning, everyone. Vice President Harris; Second Gentleman, Mr. Doug Emhoff; distinguished guests and friends. As we come together this St. Patrick’s Day morning in the breaking of bread, we enact what is a most ancient and enduring expression of friendship honored across cultures.
So, thank you very much, Madam Vice President, for inviting Matt and me to be here in your beautiful home and for continuing that very special tradition which was initiated by President Biden when he was resident here.
As doctors and as proud members of the LGBT community, allow us to say how inspired we’ve been by your personal advocacy for marriage equality, particularly in relation to Proposition 8, and also your defense of the Affordable Health Care Act.
From — from Stonewall to Sacramento to San Francisco, America has led the way when it comes to LGBT equality. I don’t think I would be here today were it not for what America did. And I know you’ve been such a strong ally for our community in that regard. Thank you for that. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize your role in defending the Affordable Health Care Act in particular. And we’ve a similar program in Ireland called Sláintecare. We’re abolishing hospital charges; capping the cost of prescription medicines; abolishing doctor fees — doctor’s fees for children, for seniors, and for those on modest incomes; and we’re phasing out private practice in public hospitals.
So, I think on those agendas, we have much in common and also much to do.
This year, as you know, we’re marking many anniversaries in Ireland: 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, 50 years since we joined the European Union, and 100 years since we joined the League of Nations.
And the international landscape has changed dramatically in the sweep of time. For Ireland, however, one relationship has endured throughout: our close and deep bond with these United States. And we’re always grateful for that.
So, Madam Vice President, today I want to acknowledge the central role which the U.S. has played in the peace process on our island, driving it forward at critical points, when few others had the influence to do so.
To mark this, Madam Vice President, my delegation and I are presenting you with an Irish silver bell as a token of our appreciation and as an emblem of the principles that our countries hold dear: peace and freedom.
Of course, I’m also conscious of the special resonance that a bell has here in the United States, with the world-renowned Liberty Bell, a symbol of your freedom and independence, of hope and equality — principles that will inspire us for the next 25 years.
As we look to the future, the agreement reached between the EU and the UK, which you mentioned earlier — the Wes- — the Windsor Framework — has the potential to restore very good relations between Ireland and the UK, and to restore relations and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement: the All Party Assembly, the power-sharing Executive, and the North/South Ministerial Council.
It should also hop- — help to open a new chapter in relations between the EU and the UK.
We’re not quite there yet. But I think with good faith on all sides — and we have that — and the help of our continuing friends here in America, we can get there.
Madam Vice President, as we work to underpin peace in Ireland, we cannot be struck by its abs- — cannot not be struck by its absence in other parts of the world.
And most especially, we think of the extraordinarily brave people of Ukraine, who’ve endured more than a year of suffering at the hands of Russian invaders. And we stand with them for as long as it takes.
Russia’s war is a threat to the international order on which we all rely. It’s an affront to human decency. And we will work together to hold its perpetrators to account.
And again, I want to thank you for the leadership that the U.S. has shown on this issue. And thank you, Madam Vice President, on behalf of Ireland and all of Europe, for your leadership on this most important matter.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh. Thank you again for the very warm welcome, for your kind hospitality here.
La Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go leir. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all. Thank you. (Applause.)