Thursday 19 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Official Ireland tried to dodge Trump but his VP will be fed plenty of blarney on his visit'


US Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
US Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Those who held their noses as a rural Irish town feted Donald Trump earlier this year had better stock up on smelling salts.

The welcome that greeted the US president in early June was driven primarily by economic necessity.

The people of Co Clare milked their moment in the limelight and stroked the ego that feeds them.

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But the arrival of his deputy Mike Pence is an altogether more personal and political affair.

Official Ireland did its utmost to avoid prolonged contact with Trump for fear he might tweet about them.

However, the red carpet will be rolled out for Pence at both Áras an Uachtárain and Farmleigh House.

Since the Trump administration won office, the Irish Government has viewed Pence as the closest thing to an ally we can find in the White House.

While Trump's knowledge of Ireland doesn't stretch far beyond Doonbeg, Pence would fit nicely on one of those oversized tour buses navigating the Ring of Kerry even though it's shrouded in mist.

And if there is one thing we are good at, it's convincing Americans with lots of money that their heritage should be celebrated more than most. Remember how deep some genealogist had to dig to find Barack Obama's great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney in pre-Famine Moneygall?

Pence is mildly obsessed with his mammy and Irishness - a trait diplomats in the Department of Foreign Affairs have studied carefully since his inauguration in 2017.

When Enda Kenny travelled to Washington for St Patrick's Day that year, he took the president a Bord Bia hamper but a lot more thought went into the vice-president's gift.

Over a breakfast that included "country potatoes" at the Naval Observatory, the then Taoiseach presented Pence with a copy of the 1911 census showing his grandfather could read and write at the age of eight.

Those of us who covered that trip were well versed in the Pence family history by the time it was over. Four times in the space of 24 hours, I heard him tell how Richard Michael Cawley left Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and landed at Ellis Island on April 11, 1923.

Pence's immigrant grandfather became a bus driver in Chicago and married Mary Maloney, a teacher whose family hailed from Doonbeg.

At one event during the festivities, the former governor of Indiana rather biblically declared: "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."

His relationship with Leo Varadkar has grabbed plenty of headlines internationally, but the ultra-conservative Pence has rolled with the punches.

The media was banned from inside the annual St Patrick's Day breakfast in 2018 amid nerves over whether the Taoiseach would use the opportunity to strike for LGBT rights.

But having got the measure of each other, Pence went on to invite Varadkar's partner, Matt Barrett, to this year's event.

The two leaders bonded over their love of the "Irish mammy" and discussed how they could get Pence's "mom" Nancy, a first-generation Irish-­American and mother-of-nine, "home".

Nancy touched down in Co Clare yesterday, along with Pence's sister Ann. A change to the vice-president's international schedule means it's not the trip they had planned.

They had dreamed of kissing the Blarney Stone and the Secret Service had scoped out a pitstop in Sligo - but the main focus now is a dinner at Morrissey's bar in Doonbeg, which is owned by a distant cousin, Hugh McNally.

They won't go home hungry because Varadkar is planning a "family lunch" earlier in the day that will involve his own parents, Ashok and Miriam.

In return for this hospitality, the Government hopes Pence will bring some understanding of Brexit and the North back to the White House. In June, Trump said Brexit would be "very, very good" for Ireland, which as anybody knows is fake news.

Irish Independent

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