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Biden makes bizarre gaffe in Ireland as White House tries to play down severity

By Sarah May on
 April 14, 2023

President Joe Biden has been enjoying a multi-day tour of Ireland this week, even exploring his family's history on the Emerald Isle, but in doing so, he committed yet another embarrassing gaffe that could have potentially significant diplomatic fallout, as Politico reports.

By confusing the name of a New Zealand rugby squad with a British military unit that battled the Irish Republican Army many years ago, Biden ran the risk of ruffling the feathers of those already convinced of his anti-London sentiments.

“The Black and Tans”

The awkward moment occurred when Biden paid a visit to a pub in the town of Dundalk and decided to go off-script in his remarks to those in attendance, as Sky News noted.

Biden's distant cousin, international rugby notable Rob Kearney – who was a member of the Irish side known for beating New Zealand's “All Blacks” team for the first time back in 2016 – was present for the occasion, and the president decided to acknowledge his achievement.

However, instead of correctly referencing the name of the defeated team, Biden said that Kearney was “a hell of a rugby player and beat the Black and Tans,” substituting the name of the British paramilitary force known for cracking down on those who opposed English rule during the Irish War of Independence.

As Sky News added, “Most infamously, the force massacred 14 people and wounded 60 more at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in Dublin in 1920.”

“Signature gaffe”

Though allies of the president described the remark as a simple slip of the tongue, the potential implications of the gaffe did not go unnoticed, given that Biden has frequently been accused of harboring sentiments in support of Irish republicans.

Appearing to then boast about a relative having vanquished a British fighting force was received by some as not the most diplomatically savvy move.

Reacting to Biden's statement was comedian Oliver Callan who said, according to Politico, “The greatest gift Ireland wanted from Joe Biden was a signature gaffe. And...didn't he just go and give us one for the century.”

Working hard to tamp down the controversy was Amanda Sloat, a senior director for Europe from the National Security Council, who said, “I think for everyone in Ireland who was a rugby fan it was incredibly clear that the president was talking about the All Blacks and Ireland's defeat of the New Zealand team in 2016. It was clear what the president was referring to. It was certainly clear to his cousin sitting next to him who had played in that match.”

Mental misfires abound

The “Black and Tans” error was not the full extent of Biden's artless commentary during his stop at the Dundalk bar or during his travels in Ireland, with Politico noting that in addition to the rugby misfire, he also continually mispronounced his cousin's name,

Rather than referring to the sports hero as “KAR-nee” as he is known among his countrymen, Biden – on more than one occasion – called him “KEER-nee.”

That kerfuffle came on the heels of another headline-grabbing situation involving Biden's apparent inability to follow what a child in a crowd of admirers meant when he asked the president, “What's the top step to success?”

“What's the top what?” Biden asked, according to Fox News, before curiously adding, “Oh, well, making sure that we don't all have COVID. What – why – what are we talking about here?” It was soon after that the president's son Hunter, who tagged along on the overseas journey, intervened to help clarify things for his dad.

Why Hunter?

The first son's presence in Ireland, though clearly a godsend for the president during the aforementioned exchange with a young boy, has also raised eyebrows.

Controversial not just because of his sordid history of drug abuse, involvement with prostitutes, affair with his brother's widow, and questionable business endeavors, critics have leveled concerns specific to his decision to accompany the president to Ireland.

As Fox News noted separately, emails reviewed by the outlet revealed that back when his father was vice president under Barack Obama, Hunter and his business partners sought to maximize connections to those in control of Irish government-linked investment funds, going so far as to discuss using then-ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, to make needed introductions.

Though some have suggested that Hunter Biden's presence on such a high-profile foreign trip is at best, in poor taste, at worst, part of a flagrant pattern of corruption, the president himself seemingly saw no issue with the identity of his two main travel companions, which also included his sister, saying before departing the U.S. that he simply decided to bring “two of my family members who haven't been [to Ireland] before.”