When it comes to visiting Donald Trump in the White House, Enda Kenny is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t
Boycott would be the easy option, the crowd-pleaser – but wrong
The truth is that Taoiseach Enda Kenny is on a hiding to nothing over his relationship and future contacts with President Donald Trump. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. No matter how robust the message of disapproval he brings to the White House on St Patrick’s Day, his very attendance will be portrayed as a humiliating kowtowing to one whose values we clearly do not share, and to some, akin to a doffing of the cap to the master in the big house.
No matter how gratifying to our sense of moral superiority, a boycott will be seen as a lost opportunity for face time with the world’s most important leader – like him or not – an empty gesture that sacrifices a chance, and only a chance, of perhaps helping the Irish undocumented stay one step ahead of the deportation flight, for the sake of grandstanding, scoring an easy cheap point to win plaudits back home.
Boycott would be the easy option, the crowd-pleaser. But wrong. And how often have we and others berated politicians for putting self, or party, before country? For taking the easy option?
Admittedly the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House and on Capitol Hill have a particular meaning and one that is problematic in this context. This is not just a hooley.
The celebrations express publicly on the part of both the Irish and the US sides a commonality of interests, values, and heritage, of interconnectedness. And, importantly, a shared commitment to the North’s peace process and political reconciliation, to which this annual jamboree has made a significant contribution.
In truth, however, it matters not who the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is at any one time, any more than it matters in this context whether Enda Kenny or Bertie Ahern occupy Merrion Street. We might prefer other incumbents, but the event has come to transcend politics. It now represents a meeting of the two peoples and to sacrifice it because of a temporary, hopefully brief, cooling of our relationships would be irresponsible.
There are other ways to convey to Donald Trump the conviction of our people that he has broken with some of the noblest traditions and values of his country and ours , and our determination that we will not be party internationally to his narrow “America First” unilateralist project.
That we value above all the welcome it has historically extended, and will undoubtedly extend again, to those in search of a better life, our own included.
If that is made clear and unambiguous, and he nevertheless still wants Enda Kenny at his party, then so be it.