Wednesday 21 February 2018

'If the Clintons can move on from Trump, so should we'

Hotelier John Fitzpatrick says there should be a welcome on the mat for the US President, writes Kevin Doyle
John Fitzpatrick in Manhattan Picture: Gerry Mooney
John Fitzpatrick in Manhattan Picture: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

In the space of one week, hotelier John Fitzpatrick has broken bread with two of America's most powerful men - but the settings and the conversation couldn't have been more different.

As part of the St Patrick's Day celebrations, the well-known businessman was centre-stage as US Vice President Mike Pence was honoured by the Ireland Funds in Washington's spectacular National Building Museum.

Seven days later, he was sitting in Peploe's restaurant on St Stephen's Green with former US president Bill Clinton after the funeral of Martin McGuinness.

It's a delicate balancing act to honour one of the men who played a huge role in ending Hillary Clinton's political ambitions and then dining with her husband days later.

But it's one that Mr Fitzpatrick says must be mastered, not just by him but by Ireland.

As a die-hard supporter and friend of the Clintons he helped Mrs Clinton's campaign and openly promoted the idea that she should become first female president of the United States.

"I'm amazed how Trump won. But that's a wake-up call for all of us. The world is changing," he said. "He's probably the best salesman and he sold it."

Mr Fitzpatrick believes America is "rolling the dice" with Donald Trump (below) who invented an "incorrect" image of 'Crooked Hillary' to kill off her chances of returning to the White House.

"Unfortunately, that was Trump's way of being the salesman.

"Before the election, he was going to put her in jail. As soon as he won, he turned around and said they were a great family.

"I don't think Trump feels that way about them, it was all part of the game," he says.

But if Mr Fitzpatrick is upset by the result, he's moving on and says the Clintons are too.

Speaking to the Irish Independent in New York, he said: "Hillary is a lady and understands. She showed up for the inauguration. She's a politician. I'm sure it was very difficult. We were on the campaign team and we were devastated. That was her whole life.

"But they are politicians and they are people. They showed up and gave respect. Life goes on. They know it."

The Dubliner, who has called America home since 1991, believes Ireland should welcome Mr Trump with open arms.

"Absolutely. We have to welcome Trump to Ireland. As much as we may not agree with all his things, we have to look again at our country and make the best of it. Why wouldn't we welcome it?" he asks.

Mr Fitzpatrick is likely to be directly affected by Mr Trump's policies because he brings Irish workers to New York to work in his two hotels, the Fitzpatrick Manhattan and the Fitzpatrick Grand Central.

Concerned

He currently employs close to 30 Irish immigrants along with over 220 Americans.

"We're all concerned at the moment because we don't know what's going to happen," he said.

"There's nothing like having Irish employees on my team along with Americans. We blend them and there's a great mix.

"The Americans have certain ideas and the Irish have certain ways as well. The Irish teach about the personality and the great service."

But according to the millionaire, this is all the more reason to engage rather than shun Mr Trump and Mr Pence.

As the most senior American claiming Irish heritage in the US government, Mr Pence was chosen as the guest of honour for the annual Ireland Funds Gala Dinner on March 15.

On the night, Mr Pence told the 700-strong crowd: "All that I am, all that I will ever be and all the service that I will ever give is owed to my Irish heritage."

The event also paid tribute to former US envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell and was attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The selection of Mr Pence raised some criticism because of the Trump administration's attitude to immigrants and his own record on LGBT issues.

The vice president is opposed to same-sex marriage and has previously been accused of supporting 'conversion therapy'.

As chairman of the Ireland Funds, which raises millions for peace and cultural projects, Mr Fitzpatrick spoke praisingly of the vice president.

"Someone asked me 'how could you?' Well I'm the chairman of the Ireland Funds, politics cannot come into it," he said.

"I'm now an American. I've got to understand how the system works. You respect the office.

"Once we sat with him and I got talking to him, I realised he spent summers as a kid in Ireland. He told me about his last trip. It was 2013. Believe it or not, he said 'I wanted to take all the family before they spread their wings because I wanted to show them where they are from'.

"Three times during the dinner he touched me on the arm and said 'John, thanks very much for doing this for me'."

Offer

The pair spoke again the following day in the White House at the Shamrock Ceremony when Mr Pence told him to "stay in touch".

It's an offer the hotelier, whose sister Eithne  owns the Killiney Castle Hotel in Dublin, intends to take up - but he also wants to do more for the Clintons. "I'd love to do a big event for them. I've already said that to them. I'd like to host something to show that Irish people's appreciation," he said.

"I hope we will never forget what the Clintons did for Ireland."

Mr Fitzpatrick reckons such an event would get a bigger crowd than Mr Trump's visit, but wistfully conceded: "We can dream but we have a new president.

"I just hope that over time he will become a little bit more moderate. I think Pence will probably help him. It's too early yet."

Irish Independent

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