WASHINGTON — Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny joined President Barack Obama at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon in the Capitol on Tuesday. It was Speaker Paul Ryan’s first time hosting the tradition.
At the outset, Ryan proudly told of his Irish heritage and entertained the crowd with Irish jokes before saying that only the strongest people can “poke fun at [someone] and then break bread with them.”
The president brought up his own Irish roots, joking that no one ever sought his birth certificate to prove his share of Irish heritage.
Then Obama brought the conversation back home. He implored Americans to keep the inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail and violent flare-ups at rallies from becoming the new norm.
“Kindness brings kindness,” Obama said. “Animosity brings animosity.”
He said Americans should strive to set a positive example for their children; politics should not be any different.
“Speaker Ryan and I may not always agree on policy,” Obama said, “but I don’t have a bad word to say about him as a man.”
Attendees toasted to the friendship between the two countries with Guinness Stout twice, the first at the end of Ryan’s speech and the second at the close of Obama’s. “Slainte!”
Kenny also spoke, stressing the significance of Ireland’s friendship with the U.S.
The prime minister congratulated Ryan on his new role and wished him luck. He thanked Obama for his leadership over the past seven years.
Following the luncheon, Kenny headed down Pennsylvania Avenue to join Obama at the White House for the annual Shamrock ceremony, where he presented the president with a bowl of Shamrocks.
Kenny’s visit to Washington was abbreviated this year, so he can return to Ireland where the country is in the middle of selecting its next prime minister. No party won an outright majority in the election last Thursday, so Kenny, a leader of Fine Gael, is staying on as taoiseach while the country’s two main parties negotiate to see if a coalition government is possible.