Kenny should be at US St Patrick’s Day events - Mary McAleese

Meeting Trump would allow ‘free and frank discussion’ on travel ban, says ex-president

Former Irish president Mary McAleese: “We expect better from the man who inherits this phrase, the leader of the free world.” File photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Former Irish president Mary McAleese: “We expect better from the man who inherits this phrase, the leader of the free world.” File photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

The Taoiseach should attend St Patrick’s Day events in Washington with US president Donald Trump, former president Mary McAleese has said.

Ms McAleese said she believed such a meeting would offer an opportunity for “a free and frank discussion about events of this weekend which I think it’s fair to say, virtually every European leader and most people who I would admire and whose politics I would admire, are sorely heartbroken by these events”.

“We expect better from the man who inherits this phrase, the leader of the free world, he’s not my leader.”

Mr Trump has been widely criticised for halting the US refugee programme for 120 days and blocking the entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Ms McAleese said the links between Ireland and the US “are formidable”, and that she would like to think the Taoiseach, “when he takes that opportunity to renew the bonds of friendship between Ireland and the United States”, would also “remind us how those bonds came about and in what circumstances they came about”.

There was “something about going to Washington and the Irish relationship with the United States, as a relationship with the United States”, she said.

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Basically it was “a matter for the Taoiseach’s judgement. As to who is it he represents in handing over the shamrock - who is it the president represents? He represents the people of the United States. Our Taoiseach represents us,” she said.

‘Twist of fate’

Commenting on events in the US at the weekend, Ms McAleese felt it “a remarkable change and twist of fate” that such abrogating of people’s rights, or an attempt to do so, should take place on Holocaust Memorial weekend.

“One thing we know from the Holocaust is that people have those human rights as individuals. They belong to them as human beings. Their human dignity is something that others can attempt to take away but they can never, ever fully remove.”

As regards the seven Muslim majority countries affected by the ban, she felt “there are certainly questions to be asked” as to why those countries were selected.

“Why the blanket ban on human beings from there, among whom there must be many who are in need rescue and succour and who must be living in the most appalling of circumstances?”

She said people in those countries must wonder at events in “a country which was built on an open door, which was built on welcoming emigrants, built on helping the poor and the unfortunate from other countries. It must be devastating for those good people who are saying ‘who in the world is going to help us now?’”

Ms McAleese recalled a story “about the Ku Klux Klan and how in New York in the 1920s they marched against Catholics in the New York police force, and I understand that Donald Trump’s father was arrested at that time as one of those who was protesting against Catholics in the New York police force”.

What was happening over the weekend reminded her of “that extraordinary expression ‘first they came for the Jews ..’, this is what we are looking at now”.

‘How dehumanising it is’

It was a time for “people of goodwill and people who believe in human and civil rights, people who do not believe in blanket bans on races or religious groups, who know the history of what happens when you issue those blanket bans, and how dehumanising it is, it’s for us to say ‘no, I’m sorry, this is not something that we can possibly tolerate’.”

Asked her views on Mr Trump generally, she said: “It’s very simple. I don’t think I like anything I hear this man say. And when I hear people say he is the leader of the free world, I have to say as a woman, and as a woman who lives in the free world, he’s not my leader.”