The Irish Times view on Leo Varadkar in Washington: Walking the tightrope

Varadkar’s message will hardly change Trump’s mind or relieve him of his prejudices. But it’s important that these things are said

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar managed to walk the political tightrope during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington this week, combining politeness and good humour towards his hosts with some deftly delivered home truths.

Dealing with such an erratic and unpredictable figure as Donald Trump was a challenge for the Taoiseach, to put it mildly, but he handled himself with dignity and didn’t shirk saying some things that needed to be said.

He complimented the US president for making progress in his ambition to make America great again while reminding him of the fundamental values that made America great in the first place.

“I believe the greatness of America is about more than economic prowess and military might. It is rooted in the things that make us love America: your people, your values, a new nation conceived in liberty,” said Varadkar.

His reminder that the promise of America had inspired those seeking liberty and freedom around the world was timely and important. More to the point his emphasis on the fact that people from all over the globe, including millions from Ireland, helped to build America was a barely disguised challenge to the narrow, closed borders mentality epitomised by Trump.

For his part, the US president spoke of the great friendship between Ireland and America. “It’s a friendship like rarely does any country have with another. Our citizens share an abiding love of faith, family and freedom.” If he got the message about tolerance and open borders, he certainly didn’t let on.

The Taoiseach used his meeting with vice-president Mike Pence to highlight the changes that have taken place in Irish society in recent decades and by implication challenged the narrow minded and hostile views about gay rights expressed by Pence in the past.

Attending the annual vice-president’s breakfast at Pence’s official residence along with his partner Matt Barrett, the Taoiseach said he hoped to be judged on his political actions and mistakes and not on his sexual orientation, skin tone, gender or religious beliefs. Speaking directly to Pence, an evangelical Christian, he said pointedly: “We are, after all, all God’s children.” Pence was gracious in his welcome for the Taoiseach and his partner and said he planned to visit this country during the year.

Varadkar’s message will hardly change Trump’s mind or relieve him of his prejudices. But it’s important that these things are said. Ireland retains exceptionally close bonds of affection with the United States and its people. As president, Trump will receive the respect his office deserves. But his values are antithetical to those of modern Ireland. On that, the Government must be very clear.

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