President Biden on Wednesday told Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin that he looks forward to collaboration between the countries as the two leaders huddled virtually in a modified version of the traditional bilateral meeting on St. Patrick’s Day.
But what has traditionally been a substance-light, shamrock-heavy celebration took slightly more meaning this year as Ireland adjusts to the post-Brexit world and its possible effect on the U.S.-backed deal that ended the country’s sectarian strife more than two decades ago.
“Ireland and the United States have a robust agenda that we got to deal with on the substantive side,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office, listing COVID-19, global health security, economic cooperation, and Ireland’s current seat on the U.N. Security Council. “I just welcome the leadership and your partnership.”
Mr. Biden told the Taoiseach — effectively, the Republic of Ireland’s prime minister — that Washington “strongly” supports the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended the “Troubles” dividing Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Biden, who frequently refers his Irish ancestry, also mentioned a renewed memorandum of understanding on the cancer consortium between the U.S., Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“It’s one of the things that, as president…I am going to focus heavily on,” the president said.
Mr. Martin, beaming into the meeting virtually, thanked Mr. Biden for his leadership and said his country was proud of Mr. Biden’s election last year.
He expressed his condolences for the shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday that left eight people dead.
“Mr. President, the world has rightly taken great heart in the steps you have already taken to bring the U.S. back to center stage on global health, on climate, and on human rights,” he said.
He expressed interest in working with the U.S. on climate change and combating the pandemic and thanked Mr. Biden for his “unwavering” support of the Good Friday Agreement.
That agreement has been complicated in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. London and Brussels have struggled with the question of how to govern trade and regulation in Northern Ireland without reimposing the “hard border” that the Good Friday Agreement was designed to prevent. The Ireland-Northern Ireland border is the only land border between Britain and an EU member.
The EU moved to take legal action against Britain this week, saying it was breaching parts of the withdrawal agreement — something Britain denies.
A senior Biden administration official said the 1998 agreement can’t become a casualty of Brexit, adding U.S. officials are aware of the implementation challenges tied to the Northern Ireland border.
Though the meeting was virtual, the Irish government kept up the tradition of sending an engraved bowl with shamrocks to the White House.
“The green shoots point to the brighter future that I know lies ahead,” Mr. Martin said.
Vice President Kamala Harris also held a virtual meeting with Mr. Martin and attended a virtual event to celebrate the winners of a study-abroad fellowship program for American students.
Ms. Harris was also scheduled to speak with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Northern Ireland.
The pandemic upended the traditional White House St. Patrick’s Day celebration, as well as a congressional luncheon. Mr. Biden attended St. Patrick’s Day Mass earlier Wednesday in Delaware before traveling back to the White House.
The White House was bathed in green light Wednesday evening and White House fountains were dyed green in honor of the day.