Tuesday 21 May 2019

Leo 'will not rescind' the Trump invite... so what will he do?

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You don't find it creeping up on you. It is just a few weeks until St Patrick's Day, when the Taoiseach will be in the White House, and at some point in the proceedings it will be mentioned that President Trump may wish to accept that invitation extended to him by Enda Kenny last year, to come to Ireland.

Amid all the bonhomie and the brouhaha and the braggadocio, it may be forgotten for a few moments that it is just over a year ago since the then Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said on RTE's Today With Sean O'Rourke that he wouldn't invite Donald Trump to Ireland. His exact words were: "An invite will be the Taoiseach's decision, I wouldn't invite him."

Now he is Taoiseach, and since an invitation was indeed issued by the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the position of Mr Varadkar is not that he wouldn't invite Donald Trump to Ireland, but that he would invite him - you see the difference there?

If you were being pedantic about it, you could say that he hasn't exactly said that he would invite Trump, more that he "would not rescind" that invitation extended by Kenny at the White House last year.

Because to do so would not just be "inappropriate", it would create a "diplomatic incident". Interestingly, this notion that you shouldn't be going back on decisions made by your predecessor might be deemed appropriate by the Taoiseach, but if Trump took it on board, it would leave him with virtually nothing to do all day, and might even take away his reason for getting out of bed in the morning.

Indeed, Donald Trump will happily go back on decisions made by the current President, Donald Trump, if there's any percentage in it. But as for the Taoiseach, he will not be changing his position - or at least he will not be changing the fact that he has changed his position from what it was before his position changed.

He may go even further, in that mood of bonhomie and brouhaha and braggadocio: "I do not rescind the invitation to visit Ireland" may have the virtue of strict accuracy, in terms of reflecting the position which was articulated by the Taoiseach.

But on the day, the Trumper would no doubt be looking for something a bit stronger. And yet, in the weeks to come, as he contemplates the non-rescinding of that initiation, Mr Varadkar will feel that perhaps he got it right the first time.

Back then, he felt that a visit which went well might have benefits for trade or tourism, but that "I wouldn't necessarily assume that's the kind of visit it would be".

Sure enough, the most recent ratings for a Trump visit to Ireland were poor, with 70pc against it.

Spare a thought too for Leo, as he seeks to honour the statement he made to the Dail that "I totally reject and oppose President Trump's attempt to withdraw the US from the commitment made in Paris. I will also raise our concerns regarding human rights and LGBT rights and other issues in America that very much oppose the values of the new European centre that I talk about."

We wish him the very best of luck with all that.

Because that isn't exactly what Trump is expecting, when he is among the Irish. To him, Ireland may be many things, but essentially it is a golf course. He even mentioned it during his interview with Piers Morgan, when talk turned to Trump's British ancestry: "I also have a great situation over in Ireland in Doonbeg over there. And of course Turnberry." While some were quick to make the predictable response that Trump was failing to make the appropriate distinctions between Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom (Turnberry is in Scotland), the takeaway from this is surely that he knows at least one thing about Ireland, which is one thing more than he knows about most places in the world. That he has at least one mental image of what we do here - and that nowhere in that image does he see a conversation about "human rights and LGBT rights and other issues in America".

He sees men playing golf, on the beautiful links terrain. And it is no small thing to be associated in the mind of this American president with the Royal and Ancient game - last year, when the possibility of a second referendum on Scottish independence was raised, he said it would be terrible for Scotland, because "they'd no longer have the British Open".

Again this was mocked by predictable voices, when it is actually one of the more persuasive arguments against Scottish independence, not to mention the most intelligent thing Trump has said for about 70 years.

Moreover, his vision of "Europe", his hatred of it indeed, has been informed largely by his vision of golf at Doonbeg, which was almost ruined for him by what he called "environmental tricks" dreamed up by the EU.

So that is where we are, in his head. And it is quite a high place, just to the left of Turnberry, and all the other great tracks on the Open rota. We may take it as given that he has spent considerably more time thinking about the microscopic Vertigo angustior snail that was holding up progress at Doonbeg than about Leo Varadkar's rejection of his position on the Paris accord on climate change.

But for the Taoiseach - as for Theresa May or the leader of any vaguely democratic country in which a visit by Trump would undoubtedly cause public disturbances - there is one hope: that some day soon, he will be gone.

It is, in fact, the hope of all the right-thinking people of America and of the world, that some day soon he will be taken out by Robert Mueller over Russia, and we won't have to worry about him any more.

But lately, it has seemed to me that we are hoping against hope, that we are not paying enough attention to what happens if somehow Trump sees off Mueller - after all, the right-thinking people may be, well, right, but the wrong-thinking people do happen to include most of the extremely wealthy people of the United States, and their political stooges. And the last time I looked, those people usually get what they want in the end. And in the beginning. And in the middle too, if it comes to that.

At which point we'd be seeing a decisive breakthrough by Trump in his war against the Deep State - the US Constitution, as it is otherwise known - with America being run increasingly along the lines of, say, Honduras, or the Philippines, or Turkey, countries with styles of leadership which Trump has wholeheartedly endorsed.

It might even start to look like his beloved Russia - but with a lot more golf.

So, if Leo is thinking that this year's shamrock show in the White House will be the last he'll see of Trump, he could be disappointed, and so could several of his successors. He might as well not rescind that invitation now, and get it over with.

Sunday Independent

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