Taoiseach Enda Kenny has back-tracked on his claim last year that Donald Trump’s policies are “racist and dangerous”, saying it “doesn’t follow at all” that he believes the US president himself is racist.
Speaking on the eve of the meeting between the two leaders at the White House today, marking the first formal meeting of an EU27 leader and Mr Trump, Mr Kenny refused to say if he stands over his previous claims.
Despite continuing criticism of Mr Trump’s tenure and the implementation of his revised de facto Muslim travel ban today, Mr Kenny claimed yesterday his May 31, 2016 Dáil comments were “not related to his [Mr Trump’s] personality”.
Questioned on the matter by reporters at the UN Institute of Peace in Washington DC, Mr Kenny said “language and words can be used by people in many regards” and that just because he criticised Mr Trump’s policies does not mean he believes the man he is due to meet today is a racist.
Asked why it does not follow that if someone’s policies are racist and dangerous, they are racist and dangerous, he said “I’m not into English classes”.
“I did not refer to the person, the now president, as being racist. My comment was in respect of his language.
“It doesn’t follow at all [that Mr Trump is racist if his policies are]. Language and words can be used by people in many regards.
“I’m not into English classes. I’m telling you that the language that was used on that occasion was in my view not language that I would use but it was not related to his personality,” he said, before being accused of “re-writing history” by a reporter.
The question was repeatedly raised in media events attended by Mr Kenny yesterday, with a set-piece interview on CNBC also raising the subject.
Back home, former UKIP leader and close confidante of Mr Trump, Nigel Farage, told RTE’s Today With Sean O Rourke programme that “the first thing” Mr Kenny should do today is “apologise for saying vile things about Mr Trump consistently during the campaign” — adding ominously: “Trump won’t have forgotten.”
However, asked about the comments, Mr Kenny said he has not come to the US “to answer to Nigel Farage”.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny is expected to raise the plight of 50,000 illegal Irish living in the US, the pro-EU interpretation of Brexit, the need to continue Ireland’s economic ties with the US and other matters during his set-piece meeting with Mr Trump at the White House today.
The 4pm Irish time meeting, which will be followed by the annual tradition of gifting the US president a bowl of shamrock, will be followed by a separate reception with Republican speaker of the house Paul Ryan.
Mr Kenny will also attend a breakfast meeting with US vice-president Mike Pence this morning, following on from the American-Ireland fund black tie gala reception — whose main honouree was Mr Pence — last night.
Asked if he will address concerns over Mr Pence’s deeply conservative views of the LGBT community, Mr Kenny said he will “be happy to say to him that the experience in Ireland [of marriage equality] was one of massive relief for people” who lived in “limbo” for years.
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