Melania-like quality to Leo’s sangfroid in face of Trump’s witless remarks

Miriam Lord: Shannon in a lather of stress and excitement before circus heads for Doonbeg

For the most part, the Taoiseach’s face remained frozen in a polite smile.

Leo Varadkar was a study in statesmanlike serenity, face tilted attentively towards Donald Trump as the US president blithely spouted off-kilter comments about Brexit.

There was almost a Melania-like quality to Leo's sangfroid in the face of Trump's witless remarks comparing the controversy over the border in Ireland to his controversial plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

As the home contingent crammed into a small room in Shannon Airport for a press conference with the two leaders, Leo sat stock still and let the words flow over him.


As for the Border: “I think it will work out and it will all work out very well. Also, for you, with your wall, your border. . .”

There was a quiet gasp from the Irish.

"We have a border situation in the United States and you have one over here, but it's going to work out very well. I think it's both going to work out very well."

And that strange noise heard above the Burren Suite was not the sound of an overflying aircraft, but the whoop of joy from Simon Coveney, who was in Belfast thanking his lucky stars that he didn't have to listen to such twaddle. As Trump went on to declare that Brexit could ultimately be "very, very good" for us, Leo maintained that placid smile but his eyes started darting about in his head.

This was after he felt compelled to make a respectful intervention after the Brexit-border talk became too much to take.

“The main thing we want to avoid of course,” stammered Leo, with a non-threatening laugh in his voice, “is putting a border or wall between. . . ”

“Oh, I think you do. I think you do,” interrupted president Trump.

“Both sides,” continued Leo, his voice trailing off.

‘Some good people’

“The way it works now is good. You want to try and keep it that way,” said Trump approvingly, because he had spoken to “some good people” in the UK who are “very involved in Brexit” and they told him how tremendously good it was all going to be.

And Leo smiled valiantly. As he said afterwards, when the circus had left for Doonbeg, it is important for Ireland, economically and politically, to maintain its good relationship with the US. So he listened and nodded appreciatively for the greater good.

Shannon Airport was in a lather of stress and excitement before and during president Trump's visit. He met the Taoiseach in the Burren Suite, where a large picture of John F Kennedy usually hangs on the wall of the entrance corridor.

On Wednesday, three large photographs were on the wall as Trump passed. Former president Ronald Reagan arriving at Shannon, the current US vice-president Mike Pence arriving at Shannon and Donald Trump, arriving at Shannon.

He was the only non-officeholder in the gallery – the photograph was taken when he was merely “The Donald”, touching down to a hero’s welcome as he was going to buy a big hotel in Co Clare.

The same cream outfit

His wife Melania, who shocked the gambling fraternity when she arrived wearing the same cream outfit she was wearing when Air Force One left the UK and not a Kelly green dress, was entertained in an adjoining room when the politicians were talking at cross-purposes about Brexit and other matters.

A display of Irish music and set dancing was staged for Ms Trump, with one of the dancers presenting the first lady with a posy of flowers. Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan managed to swing by for the occasion and she explained the finer points of the performance to Melania. The show was private, behind rooms darkened with black drapes.

As the crowd leaving the press conference passed the area, somebody lifted back the curtain and a rousing blast of “I’ll tell me Ma when I get home, the boys won’t leave the girls alone,” belted out as the accompanying beat of hard shoes taking lumps out of the floor.

I've got the best elections. Tremendous election. Crystal clear result

Back with the president, he said he didn't hear what President Michael D Higgins had said about America's climate change policy (not very good) but wanted us to know that the US has the best air in the world and the best water - "crystal clear" -  in the world.

Stoic Leo still managed to keep that straight face.

At the end of it, the Taoiseach noticed the Irish Daily Mail's Emma Jane Hade in the crowd. She was wearing an emerald green skirt and an orange blouse. "I'm delighted to see you're in the national colours" he called out to her, drawing Trump's attention to her outfit in the colours of the Irish flag.

The president smiled at the journalist.

“Are you nice, are you nice to him?” he asked a startled Hade. “Is she nice, Taoiseach, is she nice to you?”

“Yes, I think so,” replied Leo, taken aback. “Eh, she’s fair.”

And Donald nodded happily.

White House media police

The Taoiseach and president then had a meeting which lasted quite a deal longer than its allotted 30 minutes, at which point the White House media police appeared with the latest orders.

“Okay guys. We have to get ready for the departure of marine one – they’re wrapping up The Expanded.”

The Expanded? We call them bilaterals.

There was huge excitement when the presidential fleet arrived. Three aircraft in US livery arrived before the main one and two helicopters arrived, with a third acting as escort, in preparation for the big departure.

There were secret service men and women everywhere, service men and women driving all manner of armoured vehicles and people with more braid on their chests than you’d find on a Chesterfield suite.

There were big Xs painted on the tarmac so Air Force One parked in the correct spot, and a secret service man stood on each X until the plane taxied into position. The wind got up very badly as the VIPs stepped out of their plane. The first lady’s hair blew about a little, but scarcely a tendril moved on the presidential pate.

He waved and they walked down the steps to the waiting Leo. This was a difficult time for local Minister of State Pat Breen, who did a Shane Ross for most of the day.

There was then a sprint across the tarmac by the press to get inside for the conference. Which was fine, except that it crossed the path of the motorcade. “Over to the side. Over to the side,” shouted an American voice.

“Lads, in. Lads, in,” shouted a Garda detective.

At the entrance to the Burren Suite, the journalists were in a state of high anxiety brought on by an unusual amount of exercise. “Take it easy and nobody will get hurt,” said a woman from the White House.

Lucky to have Leo

Trump said we were very lucky to have Leo. “He’s doing a great job as your prime minister.”

When he left, the president seemed very relaxed. And why not, he was on his way to one of his own hotels which is getting the type of publicity money couldn’t buy, the sun was shining on beautiful Doonbeg and he was going to play golf there.

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, got to do more talking after the Americans left. He said he explained all about the Border to  Trump.

Leo was very diplomatic.

“You know, he is president of America and there are nearly 200 countries in the world. So I don’t think it’s possible for him to have an in depth and detailed understanding of issues in every single country.”

The Taoiseach ended his day with a Trumpian flourish, making sure to tell everyone that Fine Gael had done very well in the European elections.

“I’ve got the best elections. Tremendous election. Crystal clear result.”

Breen said “[Trump] is a fine looking man and very pleasant”.