Irish PM Kenny drops in on the mayor and the governor

Mayor Martin Walsh hosted Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during an offical visit to Boston on March 13. Mayor’s Office Photo by Jeremiah RobinsonMayor Martin Walsh hosted Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during an offical visit to Boston on March 13. Mayor’s Office Photo by Jeremiah RobinsonBefore his meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington later in the week of March 13, the head of Ireland’s government visited Boston City Hall, which Mayor Marty Walsh has said could become a citadel for Boston’s undocumented immigrants depending on federal policies.

“We need some clarity for all immigrants, all undocumented immigrants,” Walsh said at a press conference with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He said, “I wish him all the luck when he goes down to Washington.”

In broad terms, Walsh and Kenny are of one mind, advocating for Congress to come up with a solution for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“For those who are in this country, who have made their decision to live in America, to work for America, to raise their families in America, we need an opportunity for a path to legitimization here,” said Kenny. “It’s not just about the Irish. It’s also about our position as a member of the European Union.”

Kenny said he and the mayor are in agreement on the issue, praised the mayor’s “fluent” grasp of the Irish language, and said Walsh, whose parents emigrated from Ireland, is a “living example” of the island nation’s contribution to the United States.

Walsh said he disagrees with Trump’s revised executive order on international travel, which dropped Iraq from the list of six Muslim-majority nations that would face new travel restrictions. Trump’s intention to crack down on illegal immigration earlier this year prompted Walsh to announce he would throw open the doors of City Hall for people to live through.

“The fears in the city still exist. The painting of immigrants as criminals, the painting of Muslims as terrorists is still out there, and it has not softened at all,” Walsh said Monday, when asked about the new executive order.

Irish Americans may in future years have more of an opportunity to contribute to the government in Ireland. During his East Coast US tour, at a stop in Philadelphia on Sunday, Kenny announced an upcoming referendum on whether to allow Irish citizens living outside the country to vote in presidential elections. His plan was visit the White House and meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday before heading to New York City for Friday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to a copy of his travel plans obtained by the SHNS.

At City Hall, a reporter asked Walsh whether he would push for a “special status” for undocumented Irish immigrants. “I’m a proud son of Irish immigrants, but I would not be supportive of rules and regulations that just benefit people that are undocumented Irish. We need a comprehensive piece of legislation,” Walsh responded.

Kenny also said that with the United Kingdom’s vote to depart the European Union, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would not revert to the borders of yesteryear. “We will not have a return to a hard border,” he said.

After his visit at City Hall, Kenny took the short ride up Beacon Hill to the State House, where he was greeted by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. A drum and pipe corps of Massachusetts correctional officers played as Kenny and Irish Ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson climbed the State House front steps.

Baker, Polito, Kenny and Anderson then walked upstairs to the governor’s office for a closed-door meeting and gift exchange. Though Kenny was greeted at the State House front steps, he did not use the building’s front door, which is reserved for visiting heads of state. Kenny is Ireland’s head of government, but not its head of state.

Kenny’s meeting in Baker’s office lasted about 45 minutes and he posed for photos in the executive office lobby before departing the State House just after 11:30 a.m.

In October, Baker and his wife Lauren visited Ireland for a weeklong personal vacation. Upon returning, the governor called Ireland “a beautiful country filled with wonderful people.” Last week, he proclaimed March 2017 “Irish Heritage Month” in Massachusetts, noting the state’s “unique distinction” of being the most Irish-American state in the nation.

In the Bay State, more than 21 percent of residents claim to be of Irish heritage, according to a 2015 Pew Research report. Four other New England states – New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island – round out the top five most Irish-American states, according to Pew.

Although 33.3 million Americans, or about 10 percent, identified themselves as being of Irish ancestry in 2013 – making it the second-largest ancestry group in the U.S. behind German – the green in America has been fading for decades. In 1990, 38.6 million Americans or 15.5 percent of the population claimed Irish ancestry, and another 5.6 million or 2.3 percent identified as Scotch-Irish, according to Pew.

And that trend, Pew said, is unlikely to reverse. Not only is the American population that claims Irish heritage aging, but the flow of Irish immigrants to this country is now just a trickle compared to a century or more ago. During fiscal year 2015, just 1,607 Irish-born people obtained legal permanent residency in the US, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.