Vice President Mike Pence and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at Farmleigh House in Dublin today. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Irish Echo Staff
Vice President Mike Pence found himself navigating through a narrow political and diplomatic channel today having to pledge support for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Good Friday Agreement virtually in the same breath.
And he had to listen to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar state that Ireland will stand its ground in support of the existing UK Withdrawal Agreement, even as Johnson warns of a no-deal Brexit in contravention of the agreement worked out by his predecessor, Theresa May.
The Vice President and Second Lady Karen Pence are in Ireland for a two day visit that will also take in a family roots trip to Doonbeg, County Clare.
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The Pences are staying in President Trump’s Doonbeg golf resort, a move that has prompted criticism in the U.S. as the president’s business will benefit from the stay.
The vice president, on his first official visit to Ireland, a country he knows well from his youth, was greeted by Mr. Varadkar and his partner Matthew Barrett at the front door to Farmleigh House, the Irish state guest house in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Speaking during a subsequent press conference, the taoiseach, according to reports, said: “Mr. vice president, your visit to Ireland comes at a critical time in our history, with Brexit less than two months away.
“In so many ways, the UK and Ireland are deeply intertwined.
“The UK’s decision to travel a different course to ours risks being deeply disruptive, especially for the people of Northern Ireland, where most people voted to stay in Europe.
“Divergence between the UK and the EU means that the return of a hard border on this island is a very real risk.
“I know that you understand the impact a hard border will have on us on this island – barriers to the free movement of people and frictionless trade, barriers to North/South co-operation and the risk that the Good Friday Agreement and peace will be undermined. That is why we must stand our ground on the Withdrawal Agreement.
“An agreement which was carefully negotiated to overcome all these risks. So, Mr. vice president, I ask that you bring that message back to Washington with you.
“This is not a problem of our making. It is one we want to solve – through an orderly Brexit and a Withdrawal Agreement that guarantees no re-emergence of a hard border on this island.”
Mr. Pence responded: “The United Stated supports the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in Brexit.
“But we also recognize the unique challenges on your northern border and I can assure you we will continue to encourage the UK and Ireland to ensure that any Brexit deal respects the Good Friday Agreement.
“As the deadline for Brexit approaches we urge Ireland, and the EU as well, to negotiate in good faith with Prime Minister Johnston and work to reach an agreement that respects the UK’s sovereignty and minimize disruption to commerce.
“The U.S. will look to whatever helpful role we can play in helping to achieve that objective.
“President Trump announced last week that when Brexit is complete the United States will have a new free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
“So too we hope to have your continued support as we negotiate a new trade deal with the European Union.
“The United States is anxious to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU that will lower trade barriers and allow our trans-Atlantic economies to prosper more than ever before.
“In the months ahead, taoiseach, I promise you that we will continue to look for ways to renew our ties that bind our two countries.
“Increased cultural and educational exchanges will ensure the bonds of Irish and American friendship far into the future.
“Beyond our economic and security ties, the American people share something else with the Irish people – its history, its shared character and its common values.”
Mr. Pence’s family roots are in Ireland and Mr. Varadkar alluded to this in his remarks.
“Today we were able to show you the service records for your grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, who served with distinction in the Irish Defence Forces during the Civil War. Your family’s connection to Ireland is very real and very recent. The story of Richard Michael Cawley, however, is not unique.
“It is an example of the ties of history, kinship and friendship which link our two countries. A relationship that transformed the Atlantic from being an ocean of tears into a gateway to hope and opportunity.
“Our two countries are united today in our common interests, our shared heritage and our deep abiding friendship.”
Separate to the meeting at Farmleigh, the Pences were greeted by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Áras an Uachtaráin.
A statement from Áras an Uachtaráin said: “The meeting reflected on the deep bonds and enduring relations of friendship, culture and trade between Ireland and the United States and emphasized the need for continued multilateral cooperation to effectively address global and regional challenges.
“President Higgins acknowledged long-standing U.S. support for the peace process in Northern Ireland and highlighted the importance of human rights and equality legislation in resolving the conflict and promoting social change on the island of Ireland.
“The President spoke of the two nations’ shared concerns about the challenges posed by Brexit and stressed the important role of multilateral cooperation in addressing complex global issues such as conflict, poverty, food insecurity and climate change.
“The two leaders also discussed issues of Irish, European and current global relevance, including recent developments in the European Union.
“President Higgins and the Vice President spoke of Vice President Pence’s family ties with Ireland and the important role Irish migrants have played, and continue to play, in U.S. society. The President emphasized the importance of responding adequately and compassionately to the needs of migrants and refugees, within the framework of international migration law.”
Meanwhile, other issues discussed during the meeting between the vice president and taoiseach included cyber security while Mr. Pence thanked the Irish government for the role played by Shannon Airport as an “important hub” for the U.S. military.
“We are grateful for that Irish hospitality for our troops as they deploy and they come home,” Mr. Pence said.
The vice president is due to travel to London tomorrow, Wednesday, and is expected to meet with Boris Johnson.