THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good morning, and welcome all. We are honored to have the Taoiseach here, and we’re honored to have so many other distinguished friends and guests for the annual tradition of the breakfast at the Vice President’s Residence. And this is the second time we have had the privilege of hosting this event, but our first time to be able to host this with Taoiseach Varadkar. So would you join me in a rousing round of applause and welcome for him doing us this great honor? (Applause.)
And, Taoiseach, it is an honor to have you here. We had great and productive discussions yesterday in the Oval Office with the President, and great hospitality at the White House. And we’re so honored to be a part of your itinerary here in Washington, D.C., in your first official visit since stepping up into this role.
To Ambassador Mulhall and Mrs. Mulhall; to Congressman Rooney, who is Irish — (laughter); to Attorney General Schuette; to Cardinal O’Malley; to my friend, Tom Donohue; to all our distinguished guests, Karen and I want to welcome you — and not only to the Vice President’s Residence, but to this breakfast on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. Top of the morning, to you all. (Laughter.)
This is a great moment for us, and a very special moment. We’re joined by not only all these distinguished guests, but also by family members. In fact, many of you know that my own family history traces very quickly back to Ireland. And all three of that Irish immigrant’s children are with us today.
And actually, Taoiseach, they will be with us at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, Georgia, tomorrow. And they include my aunt, Mary Ellen. Where is she seated? Mary Ellen, the big sister. The little brother, my uncle, Richard, is with us. And you don’t need to rise and applaud, but my mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, is here. (Laughter and applause.) Although, it’s always a good idea to rise when she comes in the room. (Laughter.)
These are the three children of Richard Michael Cawley, who grew up just outside of Tubbercurry, in County Sligo, and came to this country — stepped onto Ellis Island on April 11th, 1923.
And, Taoiseach, I don’t know what it was like when you took your oath of office to lead your country, but when I raised my right hand to accept the responsibilities of the 48th Vice President of the United States, people kept asking me what I was thinking about. And I was thinking about my grandfather and what he would think, looking up on that platform — not about his grandson; I know what he’d be thinking about seeing me up there. (Laughter.) He would have been very surprised. (Laughter.)
But I have a feeling that he would not be surprised that that story could happen in America, because my grandfather came here, as so many have though the generations, to this country because America was a place of promise and opportunity. And it’s a place where the American dream could happen for so many Irish immigrants and their descendants. And it happened in our family.
And so it is very, very special to be able to celebrate that with all of you, and particularly special to be able to welcome you here with the Second Lady of the United States, who is your hostess this morning and made all of this happen. Would you join me in thanking Karen Pence for a wonderful effort today? (Applause.)
Well, I’m going to introduce the Taoiseach for a few remarks and then my wife will offer a blessing over the meal — which I don’t think are bangers and mash, but — that was the first breakfast I ever had when I visited Ireland when I was 18 years of age. But I know it will be special.
But let me say, as the President said, yesterday, the relationship between Ireland and the United States has never been stronger and it’s only getting better. And I can attest to the strong and substantive discussions that we had yesterday and that will continue. And Taoiseach invited our family to come to Ireland in my official capacity, and so I’d like to announce to all of you: The Pence’s will be traveling to Ireland in the coming years. I promise you that. We will accept that wonderful invitation. (Applause.)
But we’re really here just for good fellowship and not only to strengthen the ties that bind our two countries economically and from the standpoint of security in so many important ways, but also just to remind ourselves of the great debt that the United States of America owes to the Emerald Isle.
Today, more than 30 million Americans trace their heritage to Ireland. Relations that, as my grandfather would have said, “came across the pond” and made extraordinary contributions to the life of this nation. Whether it be the armed forces of the United States, whether it be in industry, whether it be building businesses large and small all across America, I truly do believe and have seen firsthand that the contributions of the Irish people to this country have contributed to the strength and character and vitality of the United States of America, and they always will.
And so today, it is my great honor to continue this tradition and my great honor, Taoiseach, to welcome you here and to thank you for all that you are doing to lead your county; to provide the kind of reaffirmation in this visit of the relationship that we enjoy.
And let me just say, as I close, that I’m very confident that, under your leadership and the leadership of President Donald Trump, we’ll simply strengthen this relationship built on those close and intimate ties and that rich history. But we’ll look for ways in the near future to strengthen our economic relationship, our mutual commitment to security, and, as our stories have intertwined in the past, I know they will continue to intertwine for the betterment of both of our people for generations to come.
And so let me just simply offer you the Irish blessing that my family taught me from very early on, and maybe you can raise a glass to this, if you’d like, to the Taoiseach: “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine warmly on your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields, and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great honor to introduce to you, the leader of the great nation of Ireland, Taoiseach Varadkar. (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER VARADKAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, distinguished guests and friends of Ireland. I just wanted to start, really, by thanking you, Mr. Vice President and also Karen, for hosting us this morning in your lovely home. It’s a real pleasure and honor to be here. And I think the warmth of your hospitality and the welcome that I and my team have received in the last couple of days is really something that I’ll never forget, and won’t forget, on my return to Ireland.
As you said, this is my first time to visit Washington, D.C. as Taoiseach, but I’ve been here many times before, and I’ve also been in various parts of the United States before for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s our tradition as a government on St. Patrick’s Day, because we have this unique national day that’s celebrated all over the world, we dispatch our cabinet members all across the world to represent us for St. Patrick’s Day.
And I had the pleasure, a couple of years ago, of being sent to Miami, Atlanta, and Savannah for a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day trip. And I was in the parade in Savannah. I’m not sure you’ve been in it before, but it is amazing. It is, I think, one of the best parades in the world. I think it’s the biggest one after New York, actually, which is the one I’ll be in on Saturday. And Savannah is a beautiful city and they really put on a great party.
So if you can extend your stay for a few days — (laughter) — I think you should, but I’m sure that’s impossible given your schedule.
I know that there are, as we all know, 35 million people in America who claim Irish ancestry, and I think that’s why St. Patrick’s Day is such a big day on this side of the Atlantic. That 35 million includes lots of people who live and work right here in your nation’s capital, and we had wonderful reminders of that yesterday in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and also at the ambassador’s St. Patrick’s Day reception, on what was a truly remarkable day.
It was also my real pleasure, yesterday and today, to make acquaintance with some members of your family, including of course, your own mother. And we were talking yesterday in the White House and I believe it was your father who was born in Ireland, if that’s right. So it’s such an — it’s a real, genuine, close connection, I think, for your family. We had to do a lot of work to find the Obama’s of Moneygall, but not as much work to find the Irish connection for Vice President Pence.
This year, as well, as you know, is Bliain na Gaeilge, and it’s a year in which we’re celebrating our Irish language, our native language. And again, I learned yesterday that — which I didn’t know, I was surprised I didn’t know it — that President Trump’s mother is Scottish, and she spoke Scots Gaelic. And Scots Gaelic is very similar to Irish; to our language, Gaeilge. You can actually understand it. So that was a fascinating thing to know, and a thing to learn.
But I am told — or at least the people who do research on my behalf, tell me that, as a child, the Vice President could recite the nursery rhyme, “Humpty Dumpty,” in Irish, having learned it from your grandfather. So not sure if that’s true or not — (laughter) — but I won’t embarrass you by asking.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Don’t test me. (Laughter.)
PRIME MINISTER VARADKAR: I won’t embarrass you by asking how much of it you remember, because I’m pretty sure I don’t know it in English. (Laughter.)
But the story, as the Vice President mentioned, goes back to the Vice President’s grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, who was a remarkable man who left Doocastle, in County Mayo, just over the county line from Tubbercurry, in County Sligo, because his mother had the faith that he would find a new future here.
And as I was saying to the Vice President earlier, if you’re on the border between Sligo and Mayo, it’s always better to choose Mayo as your county because they’re much better at football. (Laughter.) You’re much more likely to win.
But he was, by all accounts, a patriot and a proud man, and a man who built a new life in Chicago and raised his children to love both Ireland and the United States. And I think his mother’s dream was fulfilled with your success, and of course that of your family.
And I know you’ve spoken of your own visits to Ireland, both as a young man, and bringing Karen and your children to Ireland as well. I’m also told about your visits to your cousin’s bar in Doonbeg, which of course is now in direct competition with your boss’s slightly larger establishment just across the street. (Laughter.) But we are proud to say that that American Dream is so very much still being realized.
Ireland, as we all know, has a really unique relationship with America. It goes back centuries, even before the founding of this great Republic, and the struggle that Irish men and Irish women played in securing American independence and helping to build America. Irish hands signed the Declaration of Independence and Irish arms helped to make it a reality. We helped to create the Republic, and in many ways, you’ve helped us to rebuild our country, particularly in recent years.
And just to give one powerful example of that, as many of you will know, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a pivotal moment in Irish history. And that agreement was approved by all the people in Ireland, both North and South, and it owed much to the support of the United States and the able guidance of Senator George Mitchell. And it’s still guided, in many ways, by people who take an interest in Irish affairs in the administration and also on the Hill.
The agreement has stood the test of time. There have been bumps on the road — some of them serious, as there always has been — but the United States has always been on our side.
While Northern Island is free of serious violence for two decades now, it is still a very divided place, politically. It’s a cold peace in many ways. And at the moment the power-sharing Executive and the cross-community Assembly haven’t met for over a year now. So it is important, sooner rather than later, that Northern Ireland should again be governed by politicians who live there and are elected by the people there. And I certainly hope it will be possible to restore those institutions in the months ahead. And I know that we can count on this country to continue its historic role as a supporter of Ireland and our peace process.
The United States and Ireland also enjoy a very strong and exceptional economic relationship which is delivering jobs and prosperity to both countries. As I mentioned in some of my speeches and meetings over the past couple of weeks — or past couple of days rather. It doesn’t seem like weeks, yet. (Laughter.) But it does seem like a long time. But as I said in some of the meetings and speeches, we now have over 100,000 Americans in 50 states working for Irish-owned companies, particularly in the food sector, in tech, and also in construction. About $2 billion worth of trade across the Atlantic in both directions every week.
And I think it’s clear for our mutual interests that to sustain this level of trade and investment, we’ll need to grow it in the years ahead. And that’s why I’d be very supportive of the free-trade agreement between the EU, including Ireland, on the one hand, and the United States on the other, so that we can grow further — more jobs, more investment, more trade, going in both directions in a balanced and fair way.
One of the most meaningful Irish proverbs is, “Ní neart go cur le chéile.” And that roughly translates as, “There’s no strength unless we’re together.” And I think that’s true now, as it was at any point in our history.
The Atlantic, for so long a barrier between Europe and North America, is now a byword for the most important economic and political relationship in the world. It’s a transatlantic alliance that has helped shaped and has helped to keep the global order for over 75 years now, and one that I think we need to protect. So let’s look forward to, and work towards, an ever-stronger relationship between the United States, and Europe, and Ireland.
And let me finish by thanking you for your hospitality to my delegation. We would be really delighted to return the hospitality when you return to visit Ireland next. I really look forward to that.
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone. Thank you. (Applause.)