Sunday 25 February 2018

Ministers tread softly, fearing Trump backlash against Ireland

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will attend a series of engagements on Capitol Hill today. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will attend a series of engagements on Capitol Hill today. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Ministers are fearful of a 'Trump backlash' against Ireland if they are overly critical of the new US president's administration.

A Cabinet discussion on the appropriate response to Donald Trump's immigration policies heard the priority is to protect the undocumented Irish, visa arrangements, jobs and trade.

While Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he will raise the concerns of Irish people with Mr Trump during his St Patrick's Day visit to the White House, he is likely to choose his words carefully.

In the Dáil yesterday, he condemned torture and said: "Blanket bans on any country on the basis of religion are not morally acceptable and I disagree entirely with the policy that has been laid out."

However, sources said the Government is "very worried" that undermining Ireland's relationship with the US would come "at a heavy cost, not just financially but also in terms of the effect on people".

"He's so volatile. We could push him too far and next thing he's targeting the 50,000 undocumented Irish," said one minister.

It is understood the Cabinet meeting heard from a variety of ministers who said the undocumented should be a number one priority, along with the retention of visa schemes such as the J1 student programme.

Read more: 'Don't offer a shamrock to Donald Trump' - protesters gather at US Embassy in Dublin

The threat posed by Mr Trump's policies to trade and jobs in Ireland was also cited.

The only dissenting voice was Transport Minister Shane Ross, who said the Taoiseach should boycott the traditional St Patrick's Day festivities in order to make a statement against Mr Trump's support of torture.

His comments echoed the views of his his wife, former RTÉ presenter Ruth Buchanan. In a letter written by her to the 'Irish Times', she expressed trenchant criticism of the President for his views on torture, climate change and refugees and asked Enda Kenny to cancel the White House visit.

Constitution

His Independent Alliance colleague Finian McGrath sided with Fine Gael ministers who argued it was important for the Government to meet with the president face-to-face.

Attorney General Marie Whelan told the Cabinet that in her view Ireland was in compliance with all human rights legislation and our own Constitution - despite the enforcement of the Executive Order at Dublin Airport. She said the overall legality of the policy was a mater for the US courts.

A review of pre-clearance arrangements at Dublin and Shannon airport is to go ahead, but senior Government sources said last night that it was unlikely "to come up with anything we don't already know".

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, who demanded the review, is satisfied it will look at the operation and legal situation pertaining to pre-clearance facilities.

Her spokesperson told the Irish Independent it would "need to be a swift review" that takes account of international law.

Read more: Charlie Flanagan: Ireland's relationship with the US is unique - and runs deeper than politics

The first major diplomatic response from the Government will come today when Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan attends a series of engagements on Capitol Hill.

His agenda includes a meeting with the most senior Republican in Congress, speaker Paul Ryan. He will also meet Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders in Congress, who Mr Trump mocked on Twitter yesterday.

In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Kenny said: "Ireland will continue to consider any immigration matters arising from the executive order in line with Irish law.

"I fully agree that it is not righteous or correct policy to ban on the basis of country, nationality or creed. I have said that publicly already."

Opposition party leaders went further, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin saying the travel ban "stigmatises an entire religion and associates it with terrorism and mayhem.

"It is also dangerous in that it emboldens others to act against people of the Muslim faith.

"The ban contravenes the Geneva Convention and offends our concept of human decency, our values and religious liberty."

Irish Independent

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