St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington this year were somewhat curtailed by concerns over the Coronavirus which lead to some events being cancelled but the presence of our chairman, Dr Christopher Moran was a big help in securing access at the highest levels in Congress and with the Trump administration.  

There’s no doubt in my mind that being the only North South body with HM The Queen and President Michael D Higgins as our patrons, we have a distinct advantage and we must use it to its full potential.

Dr Moran is, of course, no stranger to Washington and it was great to have him back to represent Co-operation Ireland at the various functions that week.

My reduced St Patrick’s events started with a lecture at Georgetown University on Thursday, March 5, by Dr Olwen Perdue from Queens University, Belfast.

Olwen talked about how symbols, flags and emblems are so divisive in NI.  Her presentation was balanced and superbly delivered to a full house.  I got the opportunity to mention what we are doing in Co-operation Ireland to deal with the issues Olwen so eloquently covered. If there was ever a study to underscore why Co-operation Ireland’s work is more vital than ever it was this evening’s presentation.  Congratulations to Olwen and Queens for this seminal study of Public History.

The events continued with the annual Ireland Funds’ dinner which honoured Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal.   As usual it was a great event and it gave the Chairman another opportunity to meet members of Congress and other VIP guests. Here he is with Congressman Ritchie Neal who is now Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee and the Friends of Ireland Caucus.

We continue to enjoy a lot of support from the Embassy of Ireland and  I was delighted that Dan Mulhall the Irish ambassador and Dr Moran had time together.  Ambassador Mulhall is well-known to Dr Moran from the former’s time as ambassador to London.  They met several times that week and they are photographed here at the Irish Government’s Annual Business lunch which attracted over 200 business executives from around the United States. There was a great video link to the Taoiseach who addressed the guests before stepping in a plane to Washington.

It was also good to see Martin Fraser at the Gala dinner of Tuesday evening. As the Taoiseach’s most senior adviser Martin and the Chairman have been friends for a long time and we continue to be grateful for the support and encouragement we receive from the Irish government.  They are pictured below at the VIP reception at the National Building Museum.

It was also great to catch up with the Tourism Ireland Team who were out in force to promote our tourism project and Dr Moran had a chance to meet up again with Tourism Ireland’s CEO, Niall Gibbons with whom Co-operation Ireland has collaborated on numerous occasions.  This event was held at the new Intercontinental Hotel at the Wharf - D.C.’s newest development.

It was great to see the newly appointed Secretary of State,  for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis  visiting Washington for the first time in his new role.  He and Dr Moran had a useful meeting no doubt discussing the unique role Co-operation Ireland plays in Northern Ireland and indeed across the island. They were photographed before heading off for the Speaker’s Lunch in Capitol Hill

Having worked in Washington for over a decade I can confirm that the most sought after invitation during St. Patrick’s Day is an invitation to join the Speaker and the Taoiseach for lunch in the Capitol Building.  

Numbers are severely restricted and not all members of Congress get invited every year.  Dr Moran, being a regular invitee at this lunch, had useful conversations with a number of Congressmen including Congressman Brendan Boyle. They were joined by the Taoiseach and several prominent Irish Americans at this very special event.  

Here Dr Moran is photographed in front of the famous portrait of George Washington with Minster Diane Dodds, who represented the NI Executive and , separately, with Acting British Ambassador Michael Tatham who was there to represent the British government along with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

The Northern Ireland Bureau Breakfast went off exceptionally well this year and drew a large crowd who had come to hear Economy Minister Diane Dodds who represented the Executive at all the events in New York and Washington.

It was also great to catch up with old friends like Dan Lawton the former US Consul General to Belfast. He had a great working relationship with Co-operation Ireland during his posting to NI and he and Dr Moran had a good catch up at the breakfast.  Congratulations to new Director/Counsellor Andrew Elliott and his team for pulling off a superb event.

My final event was to the Washington Ireland Program’s launch of the Class of 2020.  I have a long history of involvement with this fantastic scheme that produces leaders for the future and was delighted to read up about this year’s intake of future ambassadors. Their resumes are fantastic.

I was heartened by the remarks of Ambassador of Ireland Daniel Mulhall and Minster Diane Dodds and can’t wait to meet the 33 scholars and brief them on Co-operation Ireland. It was also good to run into my old friend Ryan Feeney.

In summary it was a great week of meetings  and  I was particularly delighted that Dr Moran and the newly appointed NI Envoy, Mick Mulvaney had an opportunity to meet and discuss Co-operation Ireland’s unique role.  

Mr Mulvaney was very interested in our work and we look forward to welcoming him to NI in the near future when he and Dr Moran will doubtless be working closely. We hope that Mr Mulvaney will come along to view one of Co-operation Ireland’s many projects on his next visit to Northern Ireland.

Like everyone, the next few weeks will see me isolate and stay at home as per all the official advice. But rest assured when the world gets back up and running, we will be back stronger than ever.