Ex-Irish ambassador defends Kenny’s St Patrick’s Day visit

Séan Donlon says annual White House gathering is ‘not all shamrocks and smiles’

Former Irish ambassador to Washington Séan Donlon said taoisigh are not prevented from raising issues of importance during their visit to the White House for St Patrick’s Day. Photograph; The Irish Times.

Former Irish ambassador to Washington Séan Donlon said taoisigh are not prevented from raising issues of importance during their visit to the White House for St Patrick’s Day. Photograph; The Irish Times.

 

Former Irish ambassador to Washington Séan Donlon has defended Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s plans to visit US president Donald Trump in the White House on St Patrick’s Day, saying Ireland does not “kow-tow to anyone”.

Defending the visit which is controversial this year in the wake of Mr Trump’s temporary ban on travellers from seven mostly Muslim countries, Mr Donlon said the White House gathering was “not all shamrocks and smiles.”

The tradition, which goes back to the JFK era and has happened annually since 1981, is about promoting Irish interest, he said.

“It has never prohibited us from raising matters of importance to us”. Mr Donlon pointed out that former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald had been ‘politely very critical’ of US involvement in Central America to president Ronald Reagan – both publicly and privately.

Listen to Inside Politics

“Frankly, Americans are used to it. We are a sovereign country with our own foreign policy. We don’t kow-tow to anyone.”

He added Mr Trump’s travel ban was clearly very worrying and would be top of the agenda on Wednesday for Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

“The silver lining is that the matter has now come to the top of the political agenda in Washington.”

Mr Donlon said the matter might now – “for once and for all” - be addressed. He pointed out Congress and the Courts will also have an influence.

He said an executive order does not have the force of a piece of legislation.

When asked if he thought Mr Trump would listen to the Taoiseach when Mr Kenny voices concerns, Mr Donlon told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that believed he would.

“When he (the Taoiseach) speaks to the president, he is not just speaking for the people of Ireland but also for the 40 million Irish Americans behind him. Many of whom voted for Trump.”