Leo Varadkar has paid tribute to Irish-America for “changing the future of Ireland”.
The Taoiseach had warm words for US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying her statement in support of Ireland last year during Brexit negotiations had been heard in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin and Brussels, and had “made a difference”.
There was a standing ovation at the National Building Museum in Washington DC as Mr Varadkar rose to address the Ireland Funds 2020 National Gala dinner.
The audience included Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Diane Dodds and her DUP colleagues Ian Paisley and Edwin Poots as well as PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
Mr Varadkar flew to the US earlier today to speak at the event. He had been due there earlier this week but delayed his arrival to contend with the coronavirus situation in Ireland.
He is set to meet with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday.
Speaking on Wednesday evening, he described the theme of the event as “peace and reconciliation”, adding it was a “celebration of how Irish-America helped change the future of Ireland”.
The Taoiseach paid tribute to former deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who recently died, as a “political giant” who “helped change the course of Irish history”.
He also singled out Londonderry woman Emma DeSouza for particular welcome to the event.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar got a standing ovation as he took to the stage at the National Building Museum in Washington DC for the Ireland Funds 2020 National Gala dinner. Currently paying tribute to the late Seamus Mallon as a political giant pic.twitter.com/ABYCudvXIa— Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) March 12, 2020
She has been fighting a legal battle to be recognised as an Irish citizen.
“The Good Friday Agreement protects the citizenship and identity rights of all those born in Northern Ireland and includes the right of people to identify as British or Irish or both,” he said.
“Emma DeSouza has sought to have her right to be an Irish citizen upheld by British laws and I want to welcome her here this evening.
“Emma, we support you in your fight. It is a fight for the spirit, not just the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement.”