Tuesday 18 December 2018

Leo made right call... disinviting Trump would achieve nothing

US President Donald Trump waves, with First Lady Melania Trump, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi departs the White House on Monday. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump waves, with First Lady Melania Trump, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi departs the White House on Monday. Photo: AP

Shane Coleman

Leo Varadkar hasn't got a whole lot right since he became Taoiseach, but he was absolutely on the money with his emphatic response to urgings he disinvite Donald Trump to Ireland.

He embarrassingly acted like he'd won a 'Day-trip to Downing Street' competition meeting Theresa May a week ago. However, when it came to Mr Trump's potential visit, he 'actually' demonstrated he understands the responsibilities, and limitations, of high office.

The issue was raised in the Dáil last week by the normally sensible Green leader Eamon Ryan. With the kind of pomposity the Greens sometimes specialised in before its spell in government, Mr Ryan implored the Taoiseach to "take the lessons of history and stand up against tyranny and, for all that is good in this patriotic country", withdraw the invite to Trump.

Mr Varadkar's response was both honest and utterly pragmatic. It would be inappropriate, and create a diplomatic incident, to rescind an invitation once made, he said, adding that no progress had been made in organising such a visit.

It wasn't the answer desired by the left in the Dáil, or chunks of the media, who would love to have heard Mr Varadkar sticking it to, as they would see, the devil incarnate. But it was an answer befitting the Taoiseach of the country.

Mr Ryan correctly noted that, back in February, Mr Varadkar had said he wouldn't invite Mr Trump. So, he asked, what had changed "other than the confines of office"? But it's exactly those "confines of office" that are the pertinent issue. Leo can no longer be the shoot-from-the-hip good guy in Social Protection. He's Taoiseach, and with that comes responsibilities. Not least to the 140,000 people here employed in US companies - and at least half as many again whose jobs indirectly depend on them.

That reality doesn't mean that Irish governments have to be supplicatory towards the White House, but it does demand a certain perspective is applied.

Not much was on display from Mr Ryan. He called on Mr Varadkar to stand up for Irish values; to stand up against tyranny; and to show courage by identifying Mr Trump as someone "who cannot be relied upon". Where exactly is the courage in standing up to Donald Trump? It would be so easy to run with the hounds on that one.

We have a strange definition of what represents political courage here. Enda Kenny was lauded for his 'courage' when he attacked the Vatican for its appalling failures to adequately investigate clerical child sex abuse. But while the sentiments he expressed were absolutely correct, what was remotely brave about saying something virtually every person in the country agreed with? Real political courage involves going against the grain - saying or doing the right thing, despite widespread opposition. Frank Feighan's voting with the government on the closure of the emergency department in his own constituency - after Hiqa said it couldn't stand over the safety of patients - is real courage. He endured five years of vilification and it cost him his Dáil seat.

Some of the painful budgetary decisions made to save the country from bankruptcy by the previous two governments - including the one Mr Ryan was part of - also required serious cajones. "Standing up" to Trump, a deeply unpopular figure in this country, doesn't.

And what about the "Irish values" when it comes to other leaders?

If Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping were to visit Ireland, would there be anything like the outrage that would accompany a Trump visit? Of course there wouldn't, yet both men lead countries with appalling track records on human rights.

Remember also the plaudits from those on the left for Fidel Castro, after his passing - conveniently ignoring his regime's murder and torture of political opponents. Mr Trump, for all his many flaws, hardly falls into the above category.

We may believe, with plenty of evidence to back it up, that he is a buffoon, who is out of his depth politically. His politics; his immigration ban and his Stone Age attitudes to, just for starters, women and global warming, are repugnant to most Irish people. But the reality is he is the democratically elected president of a country with which we have enjoyed a close and hugely beneficial relationship for decades.

We mightn't have liked the result of last November's presidential election, but we need to respect it.

It's not just about self interest - although only the very naive would believe that doesn't come into it. Disinviting Mr Trump, and effectively howling at the moon for the rest of his tenure, will achieve nothing, other than meaningless pats on the back from sections of the 'right-thinking' media.

  • Shane Coleman presents 'Newstalk Breakfast', weekdays at 7am.

Irish Independent

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