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Obama welcomes Irish PM to White House

Associated Press
President Barack Obama talks with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 20, 2012, after attending a St. Patrick's Day luncheon with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama celebrated an extended St. Patrick's Day at the White House Tuesday with a visit from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who assured Obama that his debt-ridden nation would make an economic comeback.

Speaking in the Oval Office alongside the Irish leader, Obama expressed his confidence in Kenny's government, saying he believed it would be able "to get Ireland moving again." He said the two leaders also discussed the larger issue of European growth, which Obama said would have a positive impact on the U.S. economy.

"Obviously for both our countries, one of the biggest priorities is getting the economy moving in the right direction and putting our people back to work," Obama said.

Kenny said there are "signs of confidence" emerging from the Irish economy.

"We still have a very long way to go," Kenny said. "Otherwise we've had a good, solid start but clearly there are challenges ahead."

The Irish are struggling to reverse 14.4 percent unemployment, slow a renewed wave of emigration and rebuild a battered credit rating that forced the country to negotiate a humiliating 2010 bailout.

When Ireland's property boom went bust in 2008, the government sought to save those banks from collapse by promising to ensure all their debts against default. That gamble failed to stem a tide of fleeing capital from Ireland and left taxpayers on the hook for repaying potentially $91 billion in bank losses.

Obama thanked the Irish people for the warm welcome he received when he visited Ireland last year and pledged to return with his wife, Michelle.

Obama and Kenny, along with Vice President Joe Biden, also attended a St. Patrick's Day lunch on Capitol Hill later Tuesday.

The president and first lady hosted a reception for Kenny at the White House in the evening where the Irish prime minister presented Obama with a formal certificate of Irish heritage.

"This will have a special place of honor alongside my birth certificate," Obama quipped.

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