Monday 19 March 2018

Minister: we're Trump's friend

Flanagan will build 'strong relationship' on early visit to US

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Photo: Tom Burke
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Photo: Tom Burke
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan says Ireland intends to build a "strong relationship" with the administration of US President-elect Donald Trump.

Mr Flanagan also told the Sunday Independent that he intends to make an "early visit" to the US when President-elect Trump's administration is in place.

The Foreign Affairs Minister was dismissive of negative reaction nationally and internationally to Mr Trump's election. "We need to get on with it. Like Brexit, it's a democratic decision," he said of the outcome of the US presidential election.

Behind the scenes, however, there is understood to be huge concern within government circles that the stated policies of the president-elect will prove harmful to Ireland's economic interests.

These concerns relate to Mr Trump's stated 'protectionist' trade policies, his stated intention to dramatically cut the US corporation tax rate, his stated support for Brexit as well as about the future for the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US.

Yesterday, Mr Flanagan said that among his priorities when he meets the new US administration would be "to increase trade to support Irish jobs". He also said his priorities remained to "protect the welfare of our diaspora" and to "co-operate on shared foreign policy concerns".

This weekend, government ministers are on guard against making public comments which may adversely affect Ireland's relationship with Mr Trump's administration.

Last month, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor said of the then Republican candidate: "I think that it is totally unacceptable the way he talks about women. And what really disgusted me was the way he spoke about people with disability. It is reprehensible."

At the time, Mr Trump was mired in sexual misconduct allegations. However, Ms Mitchell O'Connor had also said: "But if I had to work with him, if he is the president of the US, I will absolutely work with him and I will have a working relationship."

Last week, after the election of Mr Trump and before a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday, ministers received a government memorandum which stated: "Hi all, advice at this point is to make no public comment in relation to the outcome of the US presidential election. Language will be circulated ASAP in the course of the morning."

Yesterday, Mr Flanagan described as "important and significant" that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was the first leader in Europe who received a telephone call from Mr Trump after his election.

Mr Kenny had previously also criticised Mr Trump's "racist and dangerous" campaigning during the presidential election, but the Taoiseach was among the first leaders to offer Mr Trump "sincere congratulations" on his election.

Mr Kenny has also sought to play down his previous criticism, stating that Mr Trump's comments were made in the "heat of battle" in the election.

Both the UK and German leaders were last week reported to be "furious" that Mr Trump chose to receive a telephone call from Ireland first.

However, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in a statement last week, stated that Germany and America were connected by "values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views", and added: "I offer the next president of the United States close co-operation on the basis of these values."

Yesterday, Mr Flanagan said: "The Irish Government has strong relationships with politicians of both parties in the US at all levels. The Vice President-elect, Irish-American Mike Pence, is well known to us and President-elect Trump's early call with the Taoiseach was important and significant.

"Following the election, it's a very good start for Ireland and we will build a strong relationship with the new administration."

The Sunday Independent understands that the telephone call between Mr Trump and Mr Kenny was organised by the Irish embassy in the US through Republican Congressman Peter King, a close friend of Rudy Giuliani, who is tipped to be Attorney General in Mr Trump's new administration.

During the 10-minute call with Mr Kenny, the president-elect is said to have praised the decisions taken by Mr Kenny's governments on the economy and confirmed that the US would continue to work with Ireland and would continue the St Patrick's Day tradition of inviting the Taoiseach to the White House.

The Taoiseach has said: "I had a very good conversation with the president-elect.

"He understands Ireland very well. He was complimentary about the decisions made about the economy here. He is looking forward to doing business with Ireland and I asked him specifically about Patrick's Day. He is looking forward to continuing that tradition over many years."

Subsequently, in the Seanad last week, Labour's Aodhan O Riordain said: "I'm embarrassed by the reaction of the Irish Government to what's happened in America. I can't believe the reaction from An Taoiseach and the Government.

"America has just elected a fascist, and the best thing good people in Ireland can do is to ring him up and ask him is it OK to still bring the shamrock on St Patrick's Day."

The president-elect and his advisers in recent days have backed away from some of the most sweeping pledges Mr Trump made on the campaign trail, which suggests that his administration may not deliver on some of his more controversial promises. However, in an interview since his election, Mr Trump has said he wants to solve "health care, jobs, border control, tax reform", which indicates that issues of concern to the Government here are still high on the agenda of the new US administration.

During the campaign, Mr Trump outlined a series of protectionist trade policies. The most immediate concern here, however, is the potential impact on the economy should he act on his stated intention to cut the US corporation tax rate from 35pc to as low as 15pc. The Irish corporation tax rate is 12.5pc. The IDA and the ESRI have sought to play down the prospect of US multi-national firms leaving Ireland, but the Central Bank here has said it is "way too early to tell" what kind of impact Mr Trump's presidency will have on the economy. There is also concern at Mr Trump's stated support for Brexit.

Last year goods worth €27bn were shipped from Ireland to the US, while Ireland bought €10bn from the US. The value of services sold from here to the US was €8.5bn in 2014, the most recent available figures. Also last year corporation profit tax paid to the exchequer rose by 50pc, or €2.4bn.

This windfall, mostly from US corporates, has already been allocated by the Government and is locked in to future spending commitments. Should US multi-nationals repatriate to the US, a huge hole would appear in the Government's finances.

Today, the foreign ministers of the EU are to hold a special meeting in Brussels to discuss the outcome of the US presidential election.

Last night, European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy said Ireland would use the meeting to emphasise the importance of Europe's relationship with the US: "From our point of view it is vital that the European Union continues to have a very strong relationship with the United States."

Sunday Independent

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