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Biden, Irish PM hold annual St. Patrick's Day meeting virtually

The leaders were expected to discuss Covid-19 and Northern Ireland, as well as keep some holiday traditions alive, although they can't meet in person.
Image: President Biden Virtually Hosts Irish PM Miche?l Martin
President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheal Martin in the Oval Office of the White House on March 17, 2021. Two of Biden's great-great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland.Erin Scott / Pool via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke virtually with the Irish prime minister Wednesday, moving the traditional White House meeting marking St. Patrick's Day online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Everything between Ireland and the Untied States runs deep," Biden, told Micheál Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach, at the beginning of their meeting.

Martin offered his condolences to the American people and the Asian American community for the shooting in Atlanta the night before, saying "we stand together against such mindless acts of violence."

The Irish prime minister traditionally visits the White House on St. Patrick's Day for a formal meeting and a number of celebratory events, including the presentation of a bowl of shamrocks to the president.

A senior administration official said that Biden, who has Irish roots, wanted to keep the day's events as "close to the way they would appear if we were doing this in person."

The Irish government sent a bowl of shamrocks to the White House in an effort to uphold that tradition, the official said. Vice President Kamala Harris also met virtually with Martin in place of the breakfast that the vice president typically hosts.

Biden also attended the annual "Friends of Ireland" lunch traditionally held at the U.S. Capitol, but was held virtually this year.

"I know, Mr. President, that St. Patrick's Day is very special to you as a proud son of Ireland. Equally, I have to tell you, the people of Ireland are so proud of your election," Martin said, adding that he was eager for Biden to visit Ireland once the pandemic ends and also hoped to make a trip to the U.S.

The U.S. and Ireland have participated in celebratory St. Patrick's Day events since 1952, when the Irish ambassador to Washington John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry Truman. Over the years, the holiday has come to be an opportunity to mark the importance the U.S.-Irish relationship.

Martin said that the bowl of shamrocks, which sat in between Biden and the screen on which Martin appeared virtually, was a symbol of the "undying friendship" between the two countries.

Previewing their meeting, the administration official said the president and Martin were expected to discuss Covid-19, security issues and Northern Ireland. Biden and Harris were also expected to emphasize their support for the Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, which ended the decadeslong violent conflict in Northern Ireland.

"On the Good Friday Agreements, we strongly support them and think it is critically important that they be maintained," Biden said.

Wednesday's meeting comes shortly after the European Union announced it is taking legal action against Britain for what it called a violation of international law under the Brexit agreement related to trade with Northern Ireland. Britain has said it did not violate the deal.

"In President Biden, we have perhaps the most Irish American president since John F. Kennedy, and his election was greeted with great affection and warmth," Martin said in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday morning ahead of the meeting.

"I will be thanking him for his consistent support for peace in Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

The White House will be illuminated in green Wednesday night, and both the North Lawn and the South Lawn fountains will be dyed green in celebration of the holiday.