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Ireland's new prime minister, Enda Kenny, has traveled to Washington to celebrate the wearing of the green on St. Patrick's Day, but also to begin rebuilding his country's damaged economic reputation.
The taoiseach (Gaelic for leader or first chieftain) wants to assure American investors that Ireland is still open for business and remains a good place for U.S. companies to take root, even with the recent European Union bailout of its finances.
Update: After an Oval Office meeting with the prime minister, President Obama announced Thursday that he would visit Ireland in May. Obama noted that his "great, great, great, great, great grandfather," Falmouth Kearney, was Irish. His trip will include a stop at his ancestor's home town of Moneygall, he said.
In addition to being entertained at the White House by the president Obama, Kenny will meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, according to the Irish news agency RTE.
Kenny's Fine Gael (Clan of Gaels) party came to power on Feb. 25 amid a shower of criticism for its predecessor, which took part of the blame for driving Ireland to near-bankruptcy and a $92.8 billion loan package, with plenty of strings attached. The previous Fianna Fail government was faulted for mishandling an economic crisis caused when a housing bubble burst, strapping banks that had financed the mortgages and construction. In his campaign, Kenny promised to seek better terms for the bailout with the EU and International Monetary Fund.
Irish prime ministers have journeyed "across the pond" to the U.S. for decades on St. Patrick's Day to promote investment and also to show their willingness to resolve sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, a British territory. Kenny's deputy, Foreign and Trade Minister Eamon Gilmore, will be a guest of honor at New York City's huge St. Patrick's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue on Thursday.
Northern Ireland's six counties have seen relative peace since the 1998 Good Friday Accord, which was brokered in part by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine.
Kenny, who by custom will present President Obama with a bowl of shamrocks, will also be feted on Capitol Hill and hosted by Vice President Biden at the Naval Observatory. On Wednesday, he planned to speak at an American Ireland Fund dinner, honoring Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Associated Press said. O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, once headed an Irish folk band.
Folo Tom Diemer on Twitter http://twitter.com/tomdiemer
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