Friday 21 June 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'No red carpet and no euphoria, as Trump seems to dwarf his office'

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Shannon Airport in Shannon, Ireland, June 5, 2019. Liam McBurney/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Shannon Airport in Shannon, Ireland, June 5, 2019. Liam McBurney/Pool via REUTERS
Vehicles used by US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania at Shannon Airport during his visit to the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Out on the runway, the hoopla was under way. A group of US marines in dress uniform spent a long time lining up the two green 'white tops' - known to us as helicopters - to ensure that they formed a precise, mathematical, line back to back.

Someone else extended a tape measure from the top of the mobile staircase so that its height would be precisely that which was required by the Air Force One doorway to allow for a dignified presidential exit.

A steely faced member of the US Secret Service strode over to chastise a member of the awaiting media for failing to wear his yellow security pass outside his jacket.

Then, a stench of aviation fuel rose up as those helicopters, Marine One and Marine Two, started their engines with a deafening drone, all the better to drown out any of the chitchat and pleasantries exchanged between the visitors and their welcoming party.

The lack of a red carpet was pretty much the only thing that made the difference between this so-called 'private' visit and a State visit.

We had spent a fortune on it, for a start. But there was none of the euphoria that usually goes hand in hand with the visit of a US president to these shores.

Raising objections: Protesters stand at the peace camp on the road to Shannon Airport following the arrival of Donald Trump. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Raising objections: Protesters stand at the peace camp on the road to Shannon Airport following the arrival of Donald Trump. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar waits for Donald Trump. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Donald Trump's sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. visit a local pub in Doonbeg, Co Clare. Picture: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

It did not feel like it, sat comfortably in a long line of iconic visits going back to John F Kennedy. This just felt like a 'Trump' visit, his personality all but dwarfing the office - and with bucketloads more than the usual controversies.

At 4.35pm, things began to really ramp up as the welcoming party appeared, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with his customary summertime sunglasses tan lines, Minister of State Pat Breen, Irish Ambassador to the US Dan Mulhall, and Rose Hynes, chairperson of the Shannon Group Board.

They lingered, chatting almost nervously as they awaited the outline of Air Force One in the sky.

Five minutes later, the tyres hit the runway and soon the couple were at the top of the staircase - Melania in a smartly belted cream coat and Donald in a navy suit and striped tie. They held hands as they disembarked and were met by the Taoiseach.

Mr Trump treated him to one of his complicated 'alpha male' hand grasps. Melania and Leo exchanged kisses on each cheek.

And then there was the flurry as the cavalcade of no fewer than 18 vehicles snaked the short distance over to the terminal, Melania waving an elegant arm as they drove off.

Inside, there was an unexpected press conference. The Taoiseach sat bolt upright while Mr Trump was his customary self.

He talked about Brexit - "very, very good for Ireland".

About our Border situation - "I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your Border".

Concrete and steel merchants across the island rubbed their hands in glee.

And as he compared our situation with the border in North America, we idly wondered which bit of Ireland he considered to be his nemesis, Mexico? After that, the private bit kicked in and Donald and Leo had their meeting.

Apparently, it went well.

At one point, they discussed sport. Trump brought up the British Open - though Leo, perhaps, knew about as much about that as Trump did about the Border.

Sources say it was incredibly friendly when compared with the previous two meetings in the White House, saying: "They've got the measure of each other."

His influence managed to extend to Pat Breen, who afterwards seemed to suggest that any photographs of Trump he had seen before this fell into the notorious 'fake news' camp.

"Mr Trump looked very different from what the pictures show," he said.

"In fact he is a fine looking man and very pleasant."

Everything wrapped up quickly and then the Trumps hightailed it to the comfort of Doonbeg by chopper.

Down at the Peace Camp, the protest was in full swing and chants went up of: "US military out of Shannon." At its peak there were around 100 people there and the atmosphere was good natured and peaceful.

Local woman Nicola Barnes had come along with her daughter, Anna Goodman. "And our dog," she added.

Asked why she had come along, she sighed: "Where do you start?"

It was the waste of money, she said, but also it was because she felt she had to stand up to say that the military activities of the US are wrong.

She is 'disappointed' he is here. "And Leo has let us down. He shouldn't be so compliant," she added.

Asked if she was staying the night, she said: "Oh, God no, I've got to go home to cook the dinner."

Aideen Heussaff had driven down with her son Ciaran from Dublin.

"He's bringing the world on a backward track," she said of Trump.

"US companies invest a lot of money in Ireland - but that doesn't mean we can't make our feelings known," she said.

While the bilateral meeting was taking place, Melania was in the company of Culture minister Josepha Madigan, enjoying a 'culture display' taking in Irish dancing, a performance on the harp - and somehow included a rendition of 'Cottoneye Joe'.

The media weren't allowed in - and a video that Josepha Madigan put up was subsequently taken down.

Later in the evening, locals were delighted to see Mr Trump's sons Donald Jr and Eric visit local family-run bar, Morrissey's.

A small crowd gathered outside the bar shortly before 10pm as the brothers arrived to take photos and videos.

Donald Jr and Eric spent a few minutes outside chatting to the crowd.

"This is better than New York City," they declared to the crowd that had gathered to welcome them with open arms.

Irish Independent

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