Joe Kennedy praises ‘Leo the Radical’ during Boston visit

Leo Varadkar is a “radical” who transformed Ireland, the US economic envoy to Northern Ireland has said.

Mr Varadkar is on a week-long visit to the US where he will meet President Joe Biden in Washington after first exploring Ireland’s economic and cultural ties to Boston.

The Irish leader met Joe Kennedy III, the grandnephew of US President John F Kennedy, in Boston on Monday.

Mr Kennedy was appointed as the top US diplomat for encouraging economic development in Northern Ireland in December 2022.

Taoiseach visit to the US
Joe Kennedy III speaks at the President John F Kennedy library in Boston, Massachusetts (Niall Carson/PA)

Outlining an anecdote in which his six-year-old son misheard the Taoiseach’s name as “Leo the Radical”, Mr Kennedy praised Mr Varadkar’s role in the Irish government throughout constitutional referenda which repealed legislative bans on abortion and extended marriage equality to gay couples.

“It actually made me think for a second because Taoiseach, in the best sense of the word, it fits,” he said.

“The Taoiseach has, in fact, been an extraordinary force in challenging what it means to be Irish.

“What it means to offer a right to choose, what it means to be able to embrace the one you love.

“The changes ushered in under his watch have transformed Ireland and altered its perception in the world.”

Taoiseach visit to the US
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, touches a piece of the Giant’s Causeway, which was given to President John F Kennedy by the Mayor of Galway, Patrick Ryan during a state visit to Ireland in June 1963 (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “Thank you for all you’ve done to advance the cause of tolerance, for all you’ve done to secure peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland and for your efforts to carry the message of peace for all.”

Mr Kennedy III earlier hosted Mr Varadkar in the President’s Room of the library, which is used by visiting members of the political family.

Mr Varadkar was shown paraphernalia relating to President Kennedy’s term in office and connections with Ireland, including a green tie and a dish that was used to gift shamrock to the president.

The Taoiseach also gave a speech at the presidential library where he said the US has been a “true friend to Ireland”.

Mr Varadkar particularly recognised the contributions of the Kennedy political family, adding the US had played more of a role than any other country in bringing about peace and reconciliation in the island of Ireland.

He has also said he will thank Mr Biden for the US’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of Northern Ireland’s institutions.

Speaking to reporters in Boston, Mr Kennedy reflected on his role as economic envoy to Northern Ireland and said: “It’s been a real pleasure to spend as much time in Northern Ireland as I’ve had, I’ve got to know the region very well.

“If you spend any time over there, you realise how extraordinary a place it is and that starts with the people.”

Mr Kennedy said that while a lot has been written about Northern Ireland’s history, progress in the region does not get the same attention.

He highlighted that there are nearly 250 American companies employing more than 30,000 people in Northern Ireland, as part of 1,200 international companies overall.

Mr Kennedy said Belfast is the safest city of its size in the entire United Kingdom and Northern Ireland has a unique quality of life and standard of living on the island of Ireland.

He also said the Windsor Framework, negotiated with the EU following the UK’s exit from the union, provides trade advantages to Northern Ireland.

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