A planned Saint Patrick’s Day meeting at the White House between President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has been cancelled after Martin tested positive for COVID-19.
The planned Oval Office meeting between Martin and Biden was dropped for virtual talks on Thursday.
The White House also cancelled an annual Saint Patrick’s Day ceremony during which the Irish prime minister, whose position is known as the Taoiseach, presents the US president with a bowl of shamrock grown in Ballinskelligs, in southwest Ireland.
Instead, Biden will “host a St Patrick’s Day event” without the Irish prime minister, the White House said.
St Patrick’s Day is a festive cultural holiday celebrated in Ireland, the United States and elsewhere, to mark the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick, the leading Catholic patron saint of Ireland who lived in the fourth century.
The US and Ireland have a longstanding relationship. The US brokered and has continued to back the so-called “Good Friday Agreement” reached in 1998, which provide a framework of peace in Northern Ireland.
Ireland is a temporary member of the UN Security Council and has supported Washington’s efforts to isolate Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
During his meeting with Biden on Thursday, Martin condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine. “I share with you, our horror at the barbaric attack on the civilians of Ukraine,” he told the US president.
Late on Wednesday, Martin was pictured sitting next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Ireland Funds Gala event at the National Building Museum in Washington. He left shortly after, due to the positive COVID-19 test.
Biden was at the same dinner, but a White House official said that Biden was not considered to have been at risk and had not been tested. “He is not a close contact, so testing cadence would not change,” the official said.
At the gala, Biden spoke of his Irish roots, saying, “I inherited my mother’s side of the family’s overwhelming pride – overwhelming pride in being Irish.”
Meanwhile, the Irish prime minister was isolating at Blair House across the street from the White House and sat out an annual “Friends of Ireland Luncheon” at the US Capitol that Biden attended.
Biden and the prime minister met virtually last year, as well, because of the pandemic.
An Irish government spokesman said Martin’s positive test followed two negative tests, including one earlier on Wednesday. Martin said in his virtual meeting with Biden he was “feeling good”.
“A further test was carried out when one of the Taoiseach’s delegation received a positive test, which resulted in a later positive result for the Taoiseach,” the spokesman said.
Ireland’s ambassador to the US, Daniel Mulhall, tweeted that he had given the Taoiseach’s speech for him after he left Wednesday’s dinner, adding, “I wish the Taoiseach well for his recovery.”
It was unclear how his positive result would affect the rest of his schedule in the US or his return home. On Sunday, Ireland will hold a national day of remembrance to commemorate those who died during the COVID-19 pandemic.