Government feels it had no choice but to welcome Trump win
Enda Kenny and Ministers believe it is in Ireland’s interest to keep president-elect on side
US president-elect Donald Trump in Shannon Airport in 2014: “Trump’s policies pose the greatest challenge yet to the Irish economic model of attracting US multinationals.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Just months ago, Taoiseach Enda Kenny criticised the now US president-elect Donald Trump for using “racist and divisive” language.
His surprise election victory has now forced Kenny to change his approach and embrace Trump, a move that has led to criticism from various quarters with some saying the Taoiseach is being too friendly to the man he, and other leading political figures, strongly criticised just weeks ago.
The reason for the new approach, according to those in Government, is simple. “What else are we supposed to do?” said one source, who argued that too much is at stake for Ireland to get on the wrong side of the notoriously touchy Trump.
It is accepted that, in doing so, Kenny and his Ministers will be criticised by many in the media and elsewhere but this will not change the approach to the Trump administration.
Trump’s policies pose the greatest challenge yet to the Irish economic model of attracting US multinationals here, mostly through a low corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent. He has promised to cut US rates to 15 per cent, and one of his economic advisers yesterday predicted that multinationals would return to the US when that policy takes effect.
It is likely Kenny had these policies in mind when he released a warm statement just after 10am on Wednesday morning offering Trump “sincere congratulations” on behalf of the Government and the Irish people.
Government figures argue that Kenny does not have the luxury of others to criticise Trump, nor to make pointed comments, as German chancellor Angela Merkel did. “Thousands of jobs are at stake,” said one source.
A few hours after releasing his statement Kenny told the Dáil that the Government intended to put in a request for “an opportunity to speak to the president-elect” and that he had sent a letter of congratulations to Trump and his vice president-elect Mike Pence.
A phone call from Trump duly followed hours later, and Kenny was one of the first nine world leaders and the first European Union leader to be contacted. He was told the annual St Patrick’s Day visits to the White House would continue.
While Kenny himself decided the tone of the Government’s response, there has been little criticism from his Ministers, Fine Gael or Independent, although it is expected that Independent Minister of State John Halligan could be a dissenting voice.
“It’s the famous golden rule,” said one Independent source of the attitude to Trump. “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
“What’s the alternative?” asked a Fine Gael minister. “We hope for the best and see how he acts as president in 2017.”
The true feelings of many, however, are probably reflected in a tweet posted by Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on Wednesday, in which he said US “election night turns to morning. Cold. Not bright. Have to make politics work for those we serve. Challenges even greater. Can and must do.”
Ministers and their staff were later that morning advised to “make no public comment at this point in relation to the outcome of the US presidential election”, adding that “language will be circulated ASAP”.
While such messages are a regular occurrence in the way the Government operates, it illustrates how the welcome for Trump is out of necessity rather than warmth.
Almost the entire Irish political class wanted Hillary Clinton to win, reflecting the traditional closeness to the Democrats and the horror at some of Trump’s comments on the campaign trail.
Kenny and others such as President Michael D Higgins and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin probably never believed that the Republicans and Trump would sweep all before them and therefore felt free to criticise his campaign rhetoric.
Such freedom no longer exists. Kenny and his Government have decided that Ireland’s interests are best served by being a friend to Trump.