Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs made the official announcement to reporters at the White House briefing room podium. Following the announcement, Gibbs was asked if the president is Irish.
“Good question,” joked Gibbs.
“We probably still have those t-shirts that say O’Bama.”
Despite the levity, it will be two leaders battling for the economic lives of their countries that will meet here on the 17th. President Obama has put forward a fiscal budget of epic proportions that he hopes is the tonic Americans need to return to prosperity.
Cowen, meanwhile, is an uneasy eyewitness to the Celtic Tiger’s demise and is hoping that Ireland’s domestic banking crisis is not a nail in his political coffin.
“I am delighted to accept President Obama’s invitation to Washington on St Patrick’s Day,” Cowen said in a statement.
“This year, of course, our bilateral discussions will have a particular focus on the severe economic problems which are besetting all economies and on how we can work together
internationally to tackle these unprecedented challenges,” he said.
White House officials have not as yet stated whether there will be any reception associated with Cowen’s meeting with the president and the annual handing over of a bowl of shamrock.
The North’s first minister, Peter Robinson and deputy first minister, Martin McGuiness, have, however, indicated that they will be at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day and the presence of all three Irish visitors would suggest that some degree of hospitality will be forthcoming from the hosts.
Robinson said he is hoping to encourage continued investment in Northern Ireland. Data from Northern Ireland’s department of enterprise, trade and investment showed the latest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the six counties has risen to 5.1 percent. With the U.S. jobless rate at 7.2 percent, his mission will be a hard sell.
The Irish leaders will also be heading for Capitol Hill where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will host the annual Speaker’s Luncheon.
Meanwhile, it is still not confirmed if President Obama will attend the American Ireland Fund gala the night before St. Patrick’s Day at the historic Building Museum in
The taoiseach will be there to see the possible new U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, receive a lifetime achievement award.
Rooney helped to start the fund, and he will be joined on the dais by Congressmen Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). Lobbyist Gerald Cassidy will receive the fund’s annual humanitarian ward.
On a lighter note, Irish Times columnist Miriam Lord did some sleuthing through State Department archives and has brought to public view what exactly happens to the shamrock after it’s passed from taoiseach to president.
According to rules dictated by the Secret Service, all consumables and floral gifts brought to the White House are sent directly to the garbage bin. Whether it’s a five hundred dollar assortment of dried fruit and nuts brought by an emir, or the five dollars worth of shamrock presented by the taoiseach, it all goes into the wastebasket.
The cut glass crystal vase, traditionally Waterford, is kept in storage.