Enda Kenny owes it to the undocumented Irish to go to the White House

Opinion: The Taoiseach should not break with tradition on St Patrick’s Day

Donald Trump: The Taoiseach could make a face-to-face appeal to Trump on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the US. Photograph: Don Emmertdon/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump: The Taoiseach could make a face-to-face appeal to Trump on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the US. Photograph: Don Emmertdon/AFP/Getty Images

 

For a few hours each year the White House is transformed into the greatest celebration of Irish culture to be found anywhere. Fountains are turned green, feet stomp on marble floors in traditional rhythm and tables are laden with bread, cheese, seafood and whiskey direct from the Emerald Isle.

The delivery of a bowl of shamrock and the inherent goofiness of such a stereotypical event may seem to lack any true meaning, but the value of the annual invitation to the Irish Government is not one to be taken lightly.

Calls for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to break tradition and reject president Donald Trump’s overtures are wrong-headed. His acceptance in no way signals an adherence to or support of the misguided policies Trump espoused on the campaign trail or, more alarmingly, has already pursued in the early days of his administration.

Instead, it is the opportunity, unavailable to any other world leader, to articulate the values of his nation in the most followed arena of world politics year in and year out.

This past weekend’s enactment of a Muslim ban and the continuing assault Trump’s White House is likely to inflict on immigrants all across the United States, is a matter of great policy importance to the Irish Government.

Undocumented Irish

Instead of speaking about the issue from thousands of kilometres away, the Taoiseach will have an opportunity to lend his voice to the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish who call the United States home.

Given the chance, he owes it to them to make a face-to-face appeal to Trump for fairness in dealing with the reality that most have settled here for decades, been contributing members to our communities and made homes for themselves and their families within our borders.

Trump’s strong calls for tax reform, and the dubious arguments some have made regarding Ireland’s role as a tax haven, must also be confronted head on. The reality is that the economic relationship that exists between the United States and Ireland is a great two-way street.

According to the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, there are 150,000 people employed by American firms in Ireland, but in the United States Irish companies employ 120,000 workers in 2,600 locations in all 50 states.

In the wake of the recent Apple court ruling and in anticipation of the impact of Brexit, making a strong case for Ireland as a strategic location for US companies to continue growing globally is critical.

Ireland and the US have long enjoyed a special relationship and this annual date on the calendar is part of that. As efforts continue to engage the 40 million members of the Irish community in the United States, and while Ireland’s outsized success at harnessing goodwill from its diaspora globally plays hugely into the small island’s ability to punch above its weight from a business perspective and culturally, the Taoiseach’s ability to connect face-to-face with Trump has the ability to have a huge impact on the administration’s global outlook.

Steve Lenox is president of IN-USA, the Irish business network in America. 

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