The newly elected leader of debt-crippled Ireland arrived Wednesday in the United States on an annual mission to capitalize on St. Patrick's Day _ and declared his homeland traumatized but determined to recover.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said his top priority was to reassure American leaders that Ireland remains a good base for U.S. companies, despite the country's desperate finances and European pressure to raise its business taxes as part of Ireland's EU-IMF bailout.
"We are indeed facing a tough time ahead. Our nation has been shaken, heartbroken," Kenny told an audience of American and Irish business executives at his first Washington event.
"Renewed by our determination, imagination, by the genius and tremendous stubbornness of the Irish people, we will overcome, we will recover and we will rebuild," he said.
Kenny's audience included executives of many of the approximately 600 U.S. companies in Ireland employing 95,000 people and the 225 Irish companies that employ 82,000 in the U.S.
The Irish government typically fans out worldwide, particularly to the U.S., each St. Patrick's Day in search of new allies and investment. This year Kenny has sharply curtailed the size of the PR offensive because of Ireland's debt crisis.
Nine government ministers this week are promoting Ireland from London to Sydney. The previous government _ obliterated in Ireland's Feb. 25 election after driving the nation toward bankruptcy _ sent 22 last year.
Kenny and his deputy, Foreign and Trade Minister Eamon Gilmore, traveled overnight in the Irish government's only jet to Andrews Air Force Base. Gilmore immediately was driven to New York City where he will be guest of honor at Thursday's flagship St. Patrick's Day parade.
For Kenny, the Washington exposure is putting the soft-spoken former teacher on an international stage for the first time. His low profile was reflected in recent coverage of his victory, with The New York Times describing him as a "Ms." and a Reuters photo caption rebranding him "Edna."
Kenny and his wife, Fionnuala, are spending Thursday being feted by President Barack Obama at the White House, Vice President Joe Biden at his Naval Observatory residence, and congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. Kenny's major event Wednesday is a speech to an American Ireland Fund gala honoring Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who once fronted an Irish folk band.
For most of the past two decades, the Irish political elite has invaded Washington each St. Patrick's Day focused on advancing a peace settlement for Northern Ireland. That process has delivered a stable Catholic-Protestant report for the British territory _ and now it's the Republic of Ireland in the firing line.
The strongest part of the Irish economy is its 950 foreign high-tech companies, many of which were wooed to Ireland by its attractive tax policy.
But the eurozone heavyweights, France and Germany, are pressing Ireland to raise its 12.5 percent business tax _ less than half the rates in force in America and most of Europe _ to combat Ireland's Europe-worst deficit.
Kenny insists he won't raise business tax in exchange for any improvements to Ireland's bailout deal negotiated with the European Union and Washington-based International Monetary Fund. That November agreement provides Ireland a potential euro67.5 billion ($92 billion) credit line at an average interest rate of 5.8 percent _ too high, Kenny insists, for Ireland to avoid falling ever deeper into debt.
Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan stayed behind Wednesday in Dublin to hold his first talks with officials from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, who pressed Ireland in November to take a bailout. Noonan said Ireland, a nation of 4.5 million, required lower rates and more flexible repayment rules to avoid eventual default on debt burdens in five largely state-owned Irish banks exceeding euro50 billion ($70 billion).