TÁNAISTE COVENEY: It’s a real pleasure for me, Vice President, to welcome you to Ireland. I know this is a country you know well and that you have deep connections with. And I have been told over and over again that your Irish heritage is something that’s usually important for you. And the fact that you’ve chosen to bring your mother with you in particular on this visit — to make it a family visit, as well as an official visit — makes it even more special.
So I hope you feel very welcome here. This is a home from home for you; it should be, anyway. The connections with Doonbeg and County Clare — which, extraordinarily, is also now such a strong connection for the President — and also your family connections with Sligo — with Tubbercurry and Sligo — I think are a reminder for us in Ireland, yet again, just the power of Irish America and the relationships between our two countries.
Clearly, there’s a difference in scale between Ireland and the U.S. for lots of reasons, but our histories are entwined in a way that’s powerful, in a way that has affected many of our families. And I have family in the U.S. Every time I travel to the U.S., I’m reminded of that connection and that closeness. And so it’s something that we want to build.
We launched a new Irish-America strategy in February to really try to put structure around those relationships so we can build them into something that’s very permanent and deep.
But the fact that you’ve chosen to take the time to come to Ireland on what is a very busy time for you, and also potentially quite a tragic time in terms of the onset of a very, very powerful storm, I think is a reminder to us just how seriously you take that relationship.
So thank you for being here, and I look forward to having a conversation on some of the mutual interests that I know we both have.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I want to say what a privilege and an honor it is to be back on the Emerald Isle and to have the Tánaiste to greet me is a great privilege. And I thank you for that. I thank you for beginning our visit to the Republic of Ireland, where we have so much to discuss and, as you said so eloquently, so much in common that we share.
I spoke to President Trump on the way here. He wanted me to extend his greetings to you. And I know he has forged a strong relationship with Taoiseach Varadkar. And I look forward to my meetings with the Taoiseach tomorrow. And I am so grateful for the opportunity to see how we can continue to build on what is a relationship, as President Trump said — is as strong as it’s ever been under the leadership of the Taoiseach and President Donald Trump.
Thank you also for mentioning the challenges our country is facing today with the onset of Hurricane Dorian. The President and I discussed it on my way to Ireland, and I also received a briefing moments ago from Pete Gaynor, the Director of FEMA. We have resources positioned. We’re fully coordinating with state and local officials. This remains a Category 4 storm. It is a dangerous hurricane.
And our message to every American and to all of those that are in the path of this storm is to listen to state and local emergency managers, heed their warnings, take necessary steps, and be prepared for anything.
This is a slow-moving but extremely dangerous hurricane, and we’re working very closely with governors in Florida, in Georgia, in South Carolina, and North Carolina. And all of those leaders and all of those states have taken necessary action — in some cases, begun evacuations. But we’re prepared. We’re ready. But we encourage every American to listen to those local officials and be safe.
But thank you again for the warm greeting today. I look forward to beginning a dialogue, during my visit to Ireland, on a broad range of issues. We are truly grateful for the strong economic relationship that exists between our two countries. And today that represents some $130 billion in economic exchange every year.
We look forward to enhancing that and expanding opportunities for American businesses in Ireland and opening doors for Irish businesses and investment in the United States.
I also want to express my appreciation for the security partnership between the United States and the Republic of Ireland. Being here, particularly at Shannon Airport, which has become such an important hub for U.S. forces deploying overseas, I’m especially mindful of the close coordination that our two countries have had in U.S. military operations around the world.
And I especially want to thank the team here at Shannon and in this community for the way that they welcome our troops here at all hours of the day and night, and give them a warm Irish welcome either on their way into the fight or on their way home. It’s not a small matter.
But we also look forward to discussing opportunities for greater cooperation on defense against shared threats, including terrorism and cyber threats. I look forward to a dialogue, beginning today, but also with Taoiseach Varadkar tomorrow about how we can coordinate on that.
And let me also assure you, as the Foreign Minister, that we will continue to work closely with our partners in Ireland and the United Kingdom to support a Brexit plan that encourages stability, and also one which keeps the strong foundation forged by the Good Friday Agreement.
We understand these are complex issues. I’ll be in the UK, meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in just a few days. But I think the opportunity to better understand Ireland’s perspective and unique needs, particularly with regard to your northern border, will make us even better equipped to hopefully play a constructive role in ensuring that, when Brexit occurs, it will occur in a way that reflects stability and addresses the unique relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
TÁNAISTE COVENEY: And, on that, I mean, in many ways, one of the great success stories of U.S. foreign policy, in my lifetime, has been the achievement of peace in this island — which, now, many people take for granted — but believe me, is still fragile.
And Brexit is a decision that the United Kingdom have made collectively, to leave the European Union. We respect that decision. And we’re working to try to facilitate it as best we can. But there are real Irish interests here too.
And Brexit has a disruption impact on the status quo that has emerged over 21 years since that peace agreement, where we now enjoy, today, a border, which is political but largely invisible — you don’t know when your cross it; how we have an all-island economy that functions in a seamless way.
And so, one of the big challenges for the last three years of Brexit, from an Irish perspective, has been: How do we maintain the positive momentum of peace in Ireland? How do we ensure that the all-island economy can continue to reinforce normality of relationships, where, you know, 40 percent of the milk produced in Northern Ireland farms gets processed south of the border; where half a million lambs on Northern Ireland farms get slaughtered south of the border; how where we have 13,000 commercial vehicles a day crossing that border in a way that is improving and reinforcing relationships?
And that is why we — the EU and the UK, together — prioritized that issue in the withdrawal agreement that was agreed across 28 different governments, which unfortunately hasn’t been ratified, but was agreed. And that agreement essentially protected the seamless border on the island of Ireland; prevented the need for physical border infrastructure through a commitment for temporary regulatory alignment.
And that element of the withdrawal agreement, from an Irish perspective and from an Irish peace process perspective, is hugely important now. And that’s why it’s supported by a majority of people in Northern Ireland and a huge majority of people in the Republic of Ireland.
So we will continue to work with the British government to try and find a way of getting a deal done that allows the UK to leave and do their own thing, but at the same time protects the unique relationships on the island of Ireland and the peace process and the infrastructure that goes with that into the future — which, of course, the U.S. are such an integral part, in terms of both design and support over the last two decades.
And as somebody who understands Ireland well, I think you’ll understand why it’s such an emotional issue here. The thought of physical border infrastructure reemerging on the island of Ireland, of border inspection posts — whether they’re on the border or somewhere else — reemerging on this island is something that we simply cannot allow, or certainly cannot acquiesce to.
And many in the British government system understand that. But, unfortunately, some are moving away from previous agreements that have been made in the last two to three years, without actually replacing those agreements with anything that is credible or works, yet.
And our ask of the British government — and you’ll obviously have this discussion with them in a few days — is: If the elements of the withdrawal agreement that protect Ireland and its peace process are to be removed, they’ve got to be replaced by something that’s credible and does the same job. And we want to work with the UK, if alternatives like that exist. But if they don’t, we have to try to work with what has already been agreed and provide the necessary reassurance to the UK to be able to sell that in their Parliament.
But we’ll have an opportunity to talk through that in a bit more detail, I’m sure. But it’s a huge issue for this country right now. It’s dominating politics here. And it’s about trying to mitigate against the potential damage of a choice that the UK have made that we’re having to deal with.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I again — I’m grateful for your candor. I look forward to a more detailed discussion on that issue.
And I just want to assure you that the United States will continue — continue to work with our partners in the UK and our partners in Ireland to facilitate the parties that are involved, resolving the issue in a way that reflects what’s best about the accomplishments of the last 21 years and the strengths of our two economies.
I think the United States is your leading export site. I think the UK is second.
TÁNAISTE COVENEY: Absolutely.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: And we are — we’re anxious to see our economy growing, anxious to see Ireland continue to grow, and anxious to see the UK continue to prosper. We are friends all, and will engage.
But I want to also say how proud we are of the role that the United States played in the Good Friday Agreement to bring peace to this island, to bring peace to all of the people of this island more than two decades ago. It was a historic accomplishment for the Irish people.
And I want to assure you that we will continue to encourage Ireland and the UK as these issues are resolved, and do so in a way that is built on the foundation of the peace secured in the Good Friday Agreement.
And so, with that, I again — I want to thank Tánaiste Coveney for making time to greet me on my arrival in Ireland. I’m partial to deputies. (Laughter.) And so, I’m truly grateful that you took time to greet me, and I look very much forward to our discussion in the balance of my trip here, back to the place my grandfather would always say, with warmth and fondness in voice, was for him “the old country.” And it’s an honor to be back.