Ireland’s softly-spoken Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is perhaps an unlikely person to lecture the belligerent new US President on his controversial immigration policies.
Past meetings in Washington ahead of St Patrick’s Day have seen Mr Kenny stick to friendly jibes about former Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to waffle, and he once presented Barack Obama with a book of WB Yeats’ poetry.
But at this year’s meeting with US President Donald Trump, an unexpected intervention by Mr Kenny about the vast contribution of migrants to the US came as a major departure from form.
“There are millions out there who want to play their part for America – if you like, who want to make America great,” he said, giving Mr Trump a pointed look.
“You heard that before?”
But Mr Kenny’s dig was not so much targeting the President’s “Muslim travel ban”, as it was about addressing the issue of the US’s large illegal Irish migrant population.
An estimated 50,000 Irish people are thought to be living in the USA without a visa.
“We would like this to be sorted,” Mr Kenny said.
“It would remove a burden of so many that they could stand in the light and say: ‘Now I’m free to contribute to America as I know I can.’ That’s what people want.”
Warming to his theme, he added: “I'm always struck by the American national anthem … For us … you say the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our people are as brave as ever but maybe not as free.”
“This administration, working with Democrats and Republicans, I hope can sort this out for once and for all.”
Mr Kenny’s speech followed a difficult day for the Trump administration after several judges moved to block his ban on entry to the US for the nationals of six predominantly Muslim countries.
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