By Noel Baker
The vast majority of farmers are opposed to a state visit to Ireland by US president Donald Trump, with an opinion poll also finding a majority of rural dwellers believing he will damage America’s global standing.
The Irish Examiner/ICMSA poll also shows that despite these misgivings, 63% of farmers are in favour of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting the White House for the annual St Patrick’s Day ceremonies.
Earlier this month, the Taoiseach told The New York Times it would be rude not to invite Mr Trump to Ireland, given he will be travelling to Washington next March.
Prior to being elected Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar had said he “wouldn’t be keen” on a state visit from Mr Trump.
That is still the prevailing view among farm families. The poll, conducted at agricultural shows across the country in August, shows that 53% of respondents disagreed that Mr Trump should be welcomed here, with 28% strongly disagreeing with the idea of a state visit.
Just 30% agreed with the idea of a state visit.
Digging deeper in the data, 40% of women were strongly opposed to a visit to Ireland by Mr Trump — a higher level of opposition than found among men, where 25% were strongly opposed and 51% were against the idea.
As for age groups, the strongest level of opposition to a US presidential visit to Ireland was among those aged 35 to 44, with 58% of respondents disagreeing with that proposition. The age group with the highest percentage of respondents strongly in favour of a state visit was that aged under 35, at 13%.
The poll was conducted at some of the largest agricultural shows in the country and respondents at Limerick Show, located close to Shannon Airport, had the lowest level of support for a presidential visit, at just 18%.
Just 5% of those polled disagreed with the statement that “Trump’s presidency will damage America’s reputation abroad”, with 75% of respondents agreeing with the view that the US president will damage his country’s international reputation. Some 44% of those polled strongly agreed with that sentiment.
This chimes with an overall view that the Trump presidency will harm America’s reputation abroad. There is little divergence between respondents in terms of their farming background or farm size on this question, while in terms of age groups this view is strongest among those in the 45-54 group, at 81%.
As for the annual White House pageantry in March, 63% of farmers said the Taoiseach should visit Mr Trump on St Patrick’s Day, with 19% disagreeing.
Older farmers, particularly those aged 55 and over, are most in favour, at 68%, whereas the level of support is lowest at 53% among those aged 35 to 44. Support is also strongest among tillage and livestock farmers, and less pronounced among dairy and other farmers.
ICMSA president John Comer said the poll showed that farmers valued stability, continuity, and a conciliatory approach to leadership.
“We do think that farmers really value a constructive attitude where you act as a team or a community — this might have something to do with the old meitheal concept where farm families came together and worked through everyone’s harvests as a group and in an agreed order,” he said.
“Perhaps farmers see President Trump’s perceived attitudes to minorities and the way he seems to divide societies and a politics that seems to pit one group against another.”
As for the traditional White House visit Mr Comer said farmers “differentiate between the individual and the state and they want our traditionally close ties of family and friendship with the United States to be absolutely maintained.
“I’m glad to see that this practical distinction is borne out. I do not subscribe to the idea of tokenistic or symbolic snubs of the kind represented by not visiting the White House on St Patrick’s Day or not extending an invitation to the president to visit us in turn.
“Many families in Ireland, my own included, have relations in the United States and we should be meticulous in making sure that whatever disagreements we have with the approach of a particular incumbent that that can never be interpreted as a disagreement with the United States itself or its people,” he said.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.