‘Showing up with a bowl of shamrock is an embarrassment’

Irish readers in US split over whether Kenny should meet Trump for St Patrick’s Day

Donald Trump's controversial executive order restricting travel to the United States caused a heated debate in Dáil Eireann, with Enda Kenny forced to reply. Video: Oireachtas TV


Should he stay or should he go? That’s the question Irish Times Abroad put to readers in the US, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny faces increasing pressure to boycott the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington.

After calls from the opposition and petitions signed by thousands urging Mr Kenny to refuse US president Donald Trump’s invitation to the White House, Mr Kenny has said he would be attending.

“We have had great influence in the US over the years and we still have that influence. And we intend to use it,” he said on Monday.

Opinion was split among our readers in the US. Below is a selection of the responses we received by email.

John Mannion, Florida: ‘Showing up with a bowl of Shamrock is an embarrassment’

I am dual citizen of Ireland and the US and having lived and worked in both (I’m retired in the US now) I see at first hand the effect the Trump ban on emigrants and undocumented fellow Irishmen has. There is fear and foreboding among both sections of society. Those with green cards are afraid their visas could be revoked or dishonoured on the whim of Trump. Those without visas are now living in dread of deportation at any time, even though some have been living here for multiple years and have children born here who are US citizens.

There is no doubt of the opportunity to take advantage of the goodwill of Americans to meet with business leaders here that the St Patrick’s Day visit offers. The focus of the Irish Government should be on this mission alone. Showing up at the White House with a bowl of shamrock with cap in hand trying to curry favour is an embarrassment to Irish people living here.

The view in Ireland that Americans all love Ireland and think it’s an important country in the world, that it “punches above its weight”, that they listen or have respect for what it stands for, is delusional. Most Americans have only a vague notion even where Ireland is. Donald Trump does not give a damn about Ireland or its people. He only sees it as a obstacle to his business ambitions.

The undocumented Irish here feel let down by the Irish Government’s lack of action and concern for their plight. Frequent statements by Irish politicians on “efforts” or “taking it up with officials” is just blather. It fools no one.

The widespread protests against Trump’s actions by Americans should give Enda Kenny pause. He should not underestimate the influence of the diaspora on events in Ireland should he go to the White House. He should show leadership to Irish people all over the world and stand up for our beliefs by not going this year.

Robert O’Gara, from Massachusetts living in Dublin: ‘President Trump is a man who holds grudges’

As an American currently studying at UCD, I ask that those in Ireland who call for a boycott of the Taoiseach’s annual St Patrick’s Day visit reconsider their stance. America needs the Taoiseach to visit the White House. This trip provides an opportunity for the Taoiseach to explain to the president why Ireland, and indeed much of the world, finds his discriminatory anti-immigration measures so repulsive, and perhaps help the president to broaden his worldview.

If the Taoiseach were to boycott his trip, Irish-American relations would suffer the consequences. President Trump is a man who holds grudges, and will go out of his way to attack those he deems as adversaries. The president could plausibly unleash his anger upon Ireland if he sees a boycott by the Taoiseach as a personal insult, with the consequences ranging from an angry tweet to harmful policy decisions.

Alternatively, the Taoiseach can use his visit to the White House to engage in a frank and honest conversation with president Trump about why the Irish people are outraged over his immigration ban and other policies. Mr Kenny has a golden opportunity to tell him the truth that no one in his inner circle will tell him, and that outsiders cannot.

Mr Trump has shown a willingness to listen to the opinions of others who are respectful of him. If the Taoiseach approaches him respectfully, he has a better chance of swaying the president on issues such as the immigration ban. Even if he can open the president’s mind just a little, he will have achieved so much more than he would have by simply staying in Dublin.

John Dore, New Jersey: ‘It would send a clear message that Ireland rejects fear, hate and propaganda’

I am from Limerick and my wife Deirdre is from Tipperary. We were delighted to get an opportunity to move to New Jersey with our two daughters five years ago. We feel the experience of moving here has been mutually beneficial for both us and America. We have been able to expose our daughters to a very diverse and dynamic society with lots of opportunities, while we have also contributed back to American society in many ways.

America is built upon immigration. The melting pot of people from all over the world living together and sharing their best ideas and values is America’s greatest asset. Donald Trump is the antitheses of everything America stands for, and the majority of people in America, citizens and immigrants alike, are horrified by his behaviour. We now find ourselves explaining to our daughters on a daily basis that the hatred, division, fear-mongering and outright rejection of logic and reason which they are seeing from Trump’s administration is not normal, nor right. We point to the public outcry and daily protests, both here and around the world, to show them that there are many good people who are not willing to allow his behaviour to be normalised and accepted.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has an opportunity to take a very visible stand against the Trump administration by not making the traditional visit to the White House on St Patrick’s Day this year. Taking this action would send a clear message that Ireland rejects fear, hate and propaganda, and instead values tolerance, inclusion and reason. We really hope he is brave enough to stand on the right side of history on this issue.

Ted Smyth: ‘America is not a dictatorship’

Yes the Taoiseach should visit the White House for St Patrick’s Day. States should pursue their interests while also maintaining their values. We maintain relations with the likes of Russia and China, and whatever our issues with Trump’s immoral executive orders and religious tests, America is not a dictatorship.

Heather Lang, Dublin: ‘This is not a time for diplomatic silence’

I was born in New York to Irish immigrants, and lived there until I was 12. I still have family members there who I see often. The annual St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House is a source of pride to both the Irish in Ireland and the Irish in America. It a representation of the special relationship between the two nations, and undoubtedly an annual opportunity for the Taoiseach to converse with the president is of benefit to the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, the relationship is the direct result of mass emigration from Ireland spanning centuries. In the 19th century, it was a popular view that Catholics couldn’t possibly be trusted to embrace the democratic system they found themselves in because of their presumed loyalty to the Pope.

Doesn’t this fear of a group due to the question of their “loyalty”’ to religion or government sound familiar? From our experience of the Troubles, don’t we know that having a religion does not equate to being an extremist? Can oft-heard laments about centuries of Catholic oppression by Protestant colonisers coincide with silence from a nation whose citizens, though perhaps met with suspicion, were also met with the hope of a better quality of life than they would have had back in Ireland?

Cancelling the visit certainly would not move Mr Trump to reverse the policy. However, this is not a time for diplomatic silence. Our Taoiseach should not make us complicit in a regime which unashamedly presents lies as “alternative facts”. If he does not signal his disapproval with cancellation, then he should deliver a strong statement that Irish people can be proud of; our Taoiseach should not condemn us to be on the wrong side in history books yet to be written.

Teresa Moran: ‘Ignoring the bully only gives him more power’

The Taoiseach should go to Washington. It will provide an opportunity to express concerns at Trump’s hardline activities, but more importantly, democracy is about talking, discussing, debating and negotiating. If we don’t converse with the new bully in the school yard and ignore what he is doing, what does that say about us as a nation of people? Simply saying “I’m not going to talk to you and ignore you” gives the bully more power.

Eimear Towler, Florida: ‘Meeting him would imply that Ireland condones the actions of the administration’

I am an immigrant to the United States and have lived here for the last 17 years. I first came over as a graduate student and I currently live in Tampa Florida with my husband and 3 children. I work as a science teacher in a Catholic high school. I have previously lived in Indiana, Ohio and Texas.

Ireland was, until quite recently, labelled as a terrorist nation. It is also known that Catholics within the US have been viewed as less than Christian in the past and still are by certain denominations of evangelicals. What if at some point all Irish people of the dominant faith of Ireland were banned from the United States? Thankfully, at no point did the US people say that every Irish Catholic person was a member of the IRA and therefore a terrorist. This is also true of the people from these seven countries. This ill-conceived thinly veiled Muslim travel ban will not make the US safer. It will only serve to sow more seeds of hatred in those we are trying to stop.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny needs to see some of the parallels that are at work here and not exhibit the usual gombeenism that surrounds some of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington DC. While promoting Ireland is necessary, meeting with Mr Trump would imply that Ireland condones the actions of the administration.

Lisa Logan, Illinois

While many Americans would be honoured to host Mr Kenny, we respectfully request cancellation of this year’s travel plans. I implore him and the Republic of Ireland to change their minds. Neither Mr Kenny nor Ireland need lend an air of misplaced legitimacy to Mr Trump, or to his xenophobia, his perceived superiority, his fascism, his sexism. Please support our country’s fight for democracy.

Kevin, New York State: ‘I would hate to be ashamed of being Irish for the first time’

I have been so proud to be Irish since moving to the USA four years ago, to marry my American husband and work as a healthcare sustainability specialist. The American people have nothing but good things to say about the Irish. I would hate to be ashamed of being Irish for the first time if Enda Kenny agrees to meet Mr Trump for St Patrick’s Day. If he was concerned about maintaining relationships between the two nations, he would understand that America is being led by an individual that is not supported by the majority.

When he is in the US, the Taoiseach should issue a statement of what we have in common with the Trump administration and where we have differences that we wish to resolve, including role of EU, immigration policy and free trade. There are also millions of Irish Americans who he can rely on for support for a moral policy on immigration reform.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Wisconsin: ‘It is important to engage with each other even when we disagree’

I’m an Irish-American physician in Wisconsin with great-grandparents born in Ireland on both sides, my father’s from Tipperary and my mother’s from Galway. I am not a Trump supporter, but I believe Mr Kenny should still plan to meet with Mr Trump. It is important to engage with each other even when we disagree. Visiting allows the Irish Government to express Irish concerns about the recent American actions, and will likely benefit the Irish living both in Ireland and in America.

That said, I agree with those who say Ireland should stop pre-clearance screening of travellers

to the US while they are still on Irish soil. There is a difference between constructively engaging with the US about a policy disagreement and actively participating in the unjust American policy on Irish soil. I would suspend cooperation while the current presidential order is in effect.

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