Remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Martin of Ireland Before Virtual Bilateral Meeting

The White House

Via Teleconference

Oval Office

1:20 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I’m going to make a brief opening statement about a current thing going on in the United States here, and that is the shooting down in Atlanta where eight people were killed and — seven women, six of Asian American background.

And I was just, on the telephone, briefed by the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the FBI. And the investigation is ongoing and the question of motivation is still to be determined.

But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are in very — very concerned because, as you know, I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s a — it is very, very troublesome.

And — but I’m making no connection at this moment for the motivation of what the — of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer from — as the investigation proceeds, from the FBI and from the Justice Department. So — and that’s — so I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.

Now, I want to say Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the Taoiseach. (Laughs.) It’s good to — it’s good to have you on television. But next year, in Washington — next year, in Washington — for years, as you know, Taoiseach, we — we celebrated this — this St. Patrick’s Day. I always put on a breakfast at my home, and — at the Vice President’s Residence — with leading Irish Americans, your ambassador, our ambassador, as well as some of the prelates who were involved with this. And it was always a good time.

Then we’d go into this very office. You’d sit in the chair over here — the Taoiseach would sit there. And I’d sit where — where the — my National Security Advisor is sitting, and we’d have a long discussion with the President. And then we’d go up to the — up to the United States Capitol where the Speaker of the House, starting with Tip O’Neill, would put on an event as well. And then I always snuck over to the Irish Embassy later.

I hope we can do that next year. I hope we can do that next year. And in the meantime, I want to thank you for the shamrock bowl. I don’t know whether you can see it here, but it’s a great tradition — a custom that goes all the way back to Harry Truman, who — I have a bust of Harry Truman over in that corner. I noticed he didn’t move to grab any of the — any of the shamrocks, but —

And tonight, Taoiseach, I wish you — we hope you’ll be able to see it, at least remotely. We’re going to light up the — the White House in green. And we — to celebrate the deep, deep affection that the — we Americans have, particularly Irish Americans have for Ireland and the people of Ireland. And that includes millions of Americans like my — like my great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather and my grandfather, all of whom were Irish Americans on both sides of the family.

My — my grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan, who was a great football player — American football — and a newspaper man back at the turn of the 19th — of the 20th century, used to always say when — later when he was much older and I’d walk out of his home, he’d say, “Joey, remember: The best drop of blood in you is Irish.” (Laughs.) I remembered it, I promise you. And — because if I didn’t, my grandmother, Geraldine Blewitt Finnegan, would take me down.

And we have a lot of great memories as well in our family because one of your predecessors — I went over. I’ve been to Ireland many times, but the first time I went to actually go back and look at my roots and meet my family was — was back when — the last year we were — I was Vice President of the United States. And we went both to — to Mayo, where the Blewitts are from, and Ballina, the city; and we went to County Louth, where the Finnegans are from. And it was a great, great opportunity for me to show my grandchildren and children and my brother and sister.

I joked at the time, but I — after I left, I wondered why the hell we left in the first place. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.

And so, I think, you know, there’s a lot of folks here in Ireland — my — my friends from Ireland would always say the American Irish think they’re more Irish than the Irish. But the truth of the matter is that we have a great affection for the country and a great affection for the tradition.

And we have a — Ireland and United States have a robust agenda that we got to deal with on the substantive side of this — of these issues, Taoiseach, and — from combating COVID, to strengthening global health security, to also discussing our economic cooperation and Ireland’s leadership now in the U.N. Security Council, which we’re working together. Our U.N. Ambassador is online with us here. And I just welcome the leadership and your partnership.

And you know my view and the view of my predecessor, my — of the Obama-Biden administration on the Good Friday Agreements. We strongly support them; think it’s critically important that they be maintained. And the political and economic stability of Northern Ireland is very much in the interest of all our peoples — the people-to-people ties.

And I think the idea that we — we talked about, about renewing our partnership and the All-Island Consortium — Cancer Consortium. The U.S.-Ireland and Northern Ireland — it’s a partnership that’s — that I think we can learn a lot from one another. It’s one of the things that, as President, Taoiseach, I am going to focus heavily on with our National Institute of Health: on dealing with — with cancer. We’ve all been victims of it, in terms of our families. We all know what it’s like. And we’re going to make major investments in NIH and cancer research and development. And I’m looking forward to working together.

As a matter of fact, my relatives in — in Mayo just dedicated a — my — Laurita, one of my cousins, headed up the hospice effort for cancer — not just cancer, but hospice in — in Ireland. And they just dedicated a new significant facility to my son Beau Biden, who — who died of cancer.

And so, everything between Ireland and the United States runs deep, Taoiseach. Our — our joys, our sorrows, our passion, our drive, and our unrelenting optimism and hope.

One of the few quotes that I’ve been given credit for over my career was, I said — but I mean it — maybe it’s just my family — I said, “We Irish are the only people who are nostalgic for the future.” (Laughs.) And I think we are.

It’s a — it’s a great — a great opportunity for you and I to get to talk a little bit. So I’m looking forward to our conversation, and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into discussion about some of the things that are of great mutual interest to both of us.

But as we used to say in the United States Senate, Taoiseach, “I yield the floor to you.”

PRIME MINISTER MARTIN: Thank you very much indeed, Mr. President. I’m quite — first of all, again, on behalf of the Irish people, to you I express my condolences to the people of America and, indeed, to the people of Atlanta and the families of those who were killed and injured in the horrible and very shocking shootings yesterday. And our solidarity is with you, particularly with the — the Asian American community. We stand together against such mindless acts of violence.

But 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 as President of the United States of America. And I can think of no better day for me to have the great pleasure to extend to you their warmest greetings.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER MARTIN: Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig dhuit. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, as you said, it seems strange to have to celebrate apart. As you know well, Irish people love to come together to celebrate our heritage and culture with song, with dance, with parades, with poetry, and with pride.

And this year, because of the pandemic, it just simply is impossible. And here in Ireland, people are make — are marking the occasion in their homes, but they will be thinking especially of their loved ones around the world and sending them best thoughts and wishes. And they will do so in the hope that next year will be better, as I do believe it will.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: It will.

PRIME MINISTER MARTIN: With each person vaccinated, we move closer to the day when people can meet each other, hug each other, and celebrate again. And I greatly look forward to you being able to visit Ireland as you have done so many times and, as you have said, so memorably before. I also hope it will not be long before I can visit the United States again.

For now, the bowl of shamrock in front of you is a symbol of the undying friendship between our two countries — a symbol of the good times we have shared and the challenges we’ve endured, always at each other’s side.

The green shoots point to the brighter future that I know lies ahead. And building that brighter future will, of course, be part of what we discuss today. The policies of our — of our two governments are very closely aligned on the big challenges the world faces. And I look forward to exploring how we can defeat the COVID-19 virus, working together urgently to increase the supply of vaccine for our own people and for people around the world.

We should share notes on our plans to recovery, getting back the ground lost to the pandemic. Both the United States and Europe have put funds of unprecedented scale in place to support this vital work and to build a stable and inclusive future supporting the digital and green agendas, promoting open and fair rules-based trade, delivering greater equality and opportunity.

Mr. President, the world has rightly taken great heart from the steps you have already taken to bring the U.S. back to center stage on global health, on climate, and on human rights.

We want to work with you to promote our shared values and interests in the world, including at the United Nations Security Council on which we are, as you said, currently serving. We want to work with you on time and action, which becomes ever more urgent as we approach COP26 later this year.

Today, I especially want to thank you for your unwavering support for the Good Friday Agreement. It has meant a lot, and it has mattered, including as we negotiated Brexit. With a new trading relationship now in place between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and a protocol that protects peace and avoids a hard border on this island, I want to move forward with a positive relationship with the United Kingdom. And that means standing by what has been agreed and working together to make a success of it. And that, in turn, then can help maintain peace and promote greater reconciliation on our shared island — goals that I know you support.

There are so many areas where the Irish and American people are already working together, and we would celebrate some of them here today: a consortium through which our practitioners and researchers would improve their efforts to defeat cancer — that most pernicious disease that I know is very close to your heart in terms of dealing with that; a new initiative to share (inaudible) and bring it to newer and younger audiences that we will announce today.

Mr. President, thank you. I am fundamentally an optimist. We have all endured the most difficult year. But alongside suffering and the loss, we have seen immense compassion, care, and courage, especially from our head workers, our educators, and our volunteers. We have seen the world’s best scientists come together to deliver treatments, vaccines, and hope at an extraordinary pace. And I say that the same spirit of cooperation now will speed and guide our recovery in the year ahead.

And thank you, Mr. President. I look forward to our discussion.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I look forward to it as well.

1:34 P.M. EDT

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