Taoiseach Enda Kenny has appeared to back down on summer claims he would rebuke US president-elect Donald Trump for his “racist” remarks after saying he wants Ireland to continue its close relationship with the economic powerhouse.
The Fine Gael leader failed to address the racism row in separate Dáil exchanges and RTÉ interviews yesterday, causing growing criticism from a section of the opposition.
In a statement early yesterday morning, Mr Kenny said he is “pleased to offer our sincere congratulations” to Mr Trump on his election to the White House.
Stressing Ireland and the US “have enjoyed a very close and warm relationship for many generations” he said he is “confident that under his leadership our bi-lateral relations will continue to prosper”.
The carefully-worded statement notably described defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as “a friend to Ireland” and stressed the need for the new US administration to “pursue comprehensive immigration reform” to benefit undocumented Irish in America.
However, it failed to make any reference to Mr Kenny’s summer comments that he would rebuke Mr Trump for his “racist and dangerous” remarks if elected to office — a side-step repeated by the Taoiseach throughout yesterday.
In a Dáil exchange with AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger, Mr Kenny was specifically asked if he would stand firm on his stance and tackle Mr Trump over the issue.
However, despite being asked when he would raise the issue with the US president elect “face to face”, Mr Kenny would only say the US has made “a very democratic decision” and that the remarks which were racist and dangerous were made “in the heat of battle”.
On a later RTÉ interview, Mr Kenny again failed to confirm if he will raise his summer concerns with Mr Trump, saying three times the remarks were made “in the heat of a primary battle” and that “the first thing” the president elect said he wants to do in his victory speech was to “heal wounds”.
Asked if he has concerns about Mr Trump’s plans to entice Irish-based US firms home with corporate tax cuts, Mr Kenny pointedly noted Ireland has control over its own corporate tax rate and that Irish firms employ more than 100,000 US citizens in America.
Justice Minister and former National Women’s Council of Ireland chair Frances Fitzgerald’s spokesperson said she “still stands by” her similar remarks last month.
On October 10, Ms Fitzgerald said recordings of Mr Trump making lewd remarks and joking about sexually assaulting women because he is “a star” were “horrendous”, “very disturbing” and “a major issue in terms of candidacy for anyone to be president of the US”.
In a terse two-sentence statement yesterday, President Michael D Higgins separately gave a cool response to the US election result.
“Ireland has a long and deep connection with the US and its people. I have conveyed my best wishes to president-elect Donald Trump, wishing him and the American people every good fortune for his term in office,” he said.
Speaking during a BBC World Service event in Dublin Castle last night Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said Mr Trump had “struck potentially a different tone” for his presidency when he spoke yesterday.
Mr Varadkar said Enda Kenny had congratulated Mr Trump “for the exact same reason” as many other world leaders — because he was acknowledging a democratically elected president.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Shane Ross admitted he was “very, very surprised” by the election result, but stressed the “democratic” decision must be accepted. Asked if the Government should accept invites to the White House from Mr Trump, he said: “We are now in a new situation and we are going to have to accept that.”
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