Colum Kenny: Donald Trump is still welcome in Ireland

If he is where we draw the line then we had better be clear what that line is. His money is welcome but he is not?

Donald Trump on his arrival at Shannon Airport to visit his golf course in Doonbeg, Co Clare in 2014

 

Donald Trump should be welcomed hospitably to Ireland this month. He is a visitor, an investor and the US Republican Party’s candidate for the office of president of the United States.

It would be dishonourable and foolish to insult him by extending anything less than a traditional Irish welcome.

Being polite does not mean that we need to humiliate ourselves by fawning over Trump, or that we cannot try diplomatically to persuade him to modify his policies.

But a grudging or insulting attitude to his visit would say more about Ireland than it would about Donald Trump.

We have never been very fussy about the motives or policies of US politicians visiting Ireland. If we flattered ourselves that they came simply because they loved us, then we were fools.

John F. Kennedy was no saint. His election to the White House was engineered by electoral management that was less than perfectly democratic. His commitment to war in Vietnam was clear.

The conferring of an honorary doctorate on Ronald Reagan at University College Galway was a piece of excruciating Hollywood theatrics compared to which the rolling out of red carpet at Shannon for Donald Trump’s last visit to Ireland was subtle understatement.

And the Barack Obama Plaza in County Tipperary is a monument to US politicians using Ireland to boost their image among Irish-Americans. O’Bama seemed to laugh openly at the farce of it all as he sipped Guinness and spoke his “cúpla focail” of Gaelic. We lapped it up.

Now suddenly we have standards? If Donald Trump is where we draw the line then we had better be clear what that line is. His money is welcome but he is not?

He wants a wall between the United States and Mexico. We do not? Thank God we’re surrounded by water. But we could ask Irish Ferries to start shipping those Latin American migrants here who will no longer get into Trump’s America.

They could join the thousands of refugees that out navy has rescued in the Med and brought straight back to Ireland. Hypocritical? Who, us?

Trump wants to make it harder for some Muslims to enter the United States. Is his simplistic rhetoric any worse in practice than successive US presidents cosseting repressive Arab regimes, even where Saudi citizens are too often connected to terrorist attacks and extremism?

Trump’s campaign has been undignified and at times shameful. But ordinary Americans in the Republican primaries have chosen him as their candidate.

Too often Irish politicians and Irish media view American politics through the prism of the US Democratic Party. We fail to see the bigger picture. Trump is it.

His policies represent a potential threat to US investment in Ireland, on which our economy and jobs depend to a considerable extent. This is a man to snub?

He himself is an investor here, and has previously been made feel welcome by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan greeting him at Shannon with a few musicians.

Trump has described his luxury golf course in Co. Clare as “small potatoes” in the scheme of his affairs. The whole Republic of Ireland, with its population just about twice that of Houston, Texas, and a diminishing diasporic influence in US domestic politics, is “small potatoes” for any US president.

If Trump’s visit to Ireland this month is marked by unseemly behaviour on the streets, or by indulgent moralizing in the Dáil, it will make little difference to his campaign. It may even help it. But it could permanently damage Ireland’s relationship with the White House during any Trump presidency.

It might have been enough for Michael Noonan to have again met Trump, for a quiet and hospitable dinner in Limerick or Clare. After undiplomatic comments from both Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny, something more is now required.

What is NOT required is grovelling, for Trump is indeed a dangerous figure and a candidate for whom I would not vote if I had that opportunity.

But what the Taoiseach must do now is ensure that Ireland shows Mr Trump the kind of respect due publicly to a prominent visitor, while explaining discreetly to Trump exactly why many Irish people find his policies on issues such as the environment or international relations deeply dangerous and destructive.

If that means Enda meeting Donald in Doonbeg, then so be it. Golf anyone?

-ends-

Dr Colum Kenny is emeritus professor of communications at Dublin City University.

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