Welcome yes, but don’t get bowled over by US president

US President Donald Trump and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House. Picture: EPA/Erik S Lesser

SO, HE is coming. Or is he?

It was confirmed early this week that controversial US president Donald Trump was set to visit Ireland next month.

He pulled out of a previous planned stopover in Ireland during a visit to Europe last year, but then news of a visit was first mooted a number of weeks ago.

This week we were told the Trump administration is considering a visit to Ireland between the president’s trips to Britain and France in June.

But then a spanner in the works emerged.

It was reported that disagreement over the location of a possible meeting between Trump and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has thrown the potential visit to Co Clare by the president into doubt. The disagreement is over protocol issues.

While the Taoiseach’s preference is to meet Mr Trump in Co Clare, Irish officials are reluctant to meet the US president in his golf course in Doonbeg.

Instead, the Government is understood to have pressed for a meeting in another location, preferably Dromoland Castle, located 50km away.

It appears that the president may now be favouring a visit to Scotland rather than Ireland during his European trip. Trump also has a number of golf resorts and hotels in Aberdeen and Turnberry.

Officially, the White House has not yet publicly announced any plans to visit Ireland or Scotland, though the visit to Britain and France is confirmed.

While a trip to Scotland would not involve the president engaging in official activities, given that he will have already met the British prime minister and Queen Elizabeth during his state visit to Britain, a visit to Ireland would necessitate some formal engagement with the Government.

The US president has said that he plans to visit Ireland. “I will be coming at some point this year,” he said alongside the Taoiseach in the Oval Office in March.

Predictably, the visit of Trump will trigger a backlash from many who are opposed to his divisive, racist and dangerous agenda and undoubtedly any visit will be accompanied by protests.

Asked about it, Varadkar said protest during Trump’s expected visit to Ireland next month “is allowed and is welcomed”.

He said he would “certainly never criticise anyone for taking part in a protest if that’s the way they wish to express their views”.

“This is a democracy and peaceful protest is a part of democracy. We don’t have official confirmation yet, but there is a protocol around these matters and protocol says that the announcement has to come from the White House.

“In a democracy, protest is allowed and is welcomed. I believe that we should respect the office, even if people have particular views about the current incumbent. The links that exist between Ireland and America are very strong… we want to keep those links strong, regardless of who is taoiseach or president,” the Taoiseach said.

That last point is the critical one.

The links between Ireland and the US far outweigh the personalities of any incumbent. It was as true when Barack Obama, George Bush or Ronald Reagan held the office.

Barack and Michelle Obama arrive in Ireland in 2011.
Barack and Michelle Obama arrive in Ireland in 2011.

But while Varadkar’s noble words are true, what needs to be avoided is the traditional fawning by Irish politicians of US presidents.

Varadkar got himself into big trouble when he admitted in Washington last year that he sought to intervene on Trump’s behalf in relation to a planning issue at Doonbeg. 

While he said it to be humorous to a group of US Senators, it bombed back home as it further reinforced the image that the rich and powerful play by a different set of rules compared to everyone else.

While that was bad, we definitely want to avoid a repeat of the deeply cringeworthy image of then finance minister Michael Noonan standing on the tarmac at Shannon Airport waiting to greet Trump, complete with a harpist, singer and red carpet.

Noonan — and by association the Government — was bowing and scraping to the US billionaire.

It was galling in the extreme, but Noonan sought to defend his actions as he dismissed the criticism.

Would there be criticism if it was an IDA factory that was going into West Clare with 300 jobs? This man says he’s going to spend at least double the purchase price for investment down there.

 

Mr Noonan said Mr Trump had also announced “commuter helicopters” from Shannon to the Doonbeg golf course and to other golf courses he owned in the UK.

“I’ve no connection with Donald Trump but I can assure you if it was the IDA that was bringing a factory into Clare and I was invited to go down there and there was 300 jobs in it, I’d be there,” he said during an interview on RTÉ Radio.

If Noonan was merely a local TD and not minister then his bending of the knee would not have been so bad. But he was the minister for finance.

More serious was Bertie Ahern’s tolerance for the use by George Bush’s White House for rendition flights of prisoners for torture. That was simply disgraceful and indicated how far the Irish powers-that-be were willing to go in order to keep in favour.

Ahern said he had direct assurances from US president George W Bush that no terror suspects were on those flights. “I looked at the great President Bush and I said to him, you know, ‘I want to be sure to be sure’ and he assured me,” said the then taoiseach.

The annual pilgrimage to Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day is, for any Taoiseach, an undoubted highlight of being in office, and of course President Trump should be welcomed to Ireland but that welcome should not be a slavish one.

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