Wednesday 16 October 2019

Eamon Delaney: 'Whatever we think about Trump, keeping America on-side will always be in Ireland's best interests'

Standing up to power: Anti-Trump protesters Jackie Askew from Ennistymon and Sadbh Burke from Doolin at Shannon airport. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Standing up to power: Anti-Trump protesters Jackie Askew from Ennistymon and Sadbh Burke from Doolin at Shannon airport. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Eamon Delaney

Like him or loathe him, Donald J Trump is president of the United States, a long and stalwart ally of Ireland. None of us has to be told how important the Americans are in terms of investment, family ties, cultural and democratic principles and achieving peace in Northern Ireland.

So a visit from Trump is welcome. Even better that he is staying in a hotel that he owns in one of the most beautiful parts of our country.

We need to think the way Trump does and ask "what's in it for us?". And there is a lot in it for us. There always is.

We need to look beyond Trump and see the relationship for what it is - one with America. The US president is not a king or a dictator, even if the current incumbent behaves like one.

He will not be there forever. Even if Trump wins another term - and he could well do - he is legally precluded from running for a third term.

Time moves on, and four years - or even eight - is but a blip in the deep and rich relationship between Ireland and the United States.

He should also be respected for being the US president, elected by the American people, to whom he continues to be held accountable. Democracy is a cornerstone value which we share with the US.

We may even have helped solidify democracy in the US by the subsequent mass participation of Irish emigrants in US politics, a highly competitive system that Trump has clearly drawn from.

This does not mean that we should ignore Trump's faults or his controversial stances on issues. Far from it.

For a start, Trump's support for Brexit, and even for a 'no-deal' Brexit, directly challenges our best interests and, of course, the best interest of peace on our island. It also directly flies in the face of a long and very positive engagement by the US on Northern Ireland. This goes back to Bill Clinton in the run up to the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and then, with senator George Mitchell and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It then remained positive and engaged with subsequent Bush and Obama administrations.

Trump has undone that. This may be just provocative posturing by him, and US politicians, both Democrat and Republican, have been otherwise supportive of the Irish position on Brexit.

However, Trump's embrace of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage has been unhelpful and destructive. It is also an attack on the European project of which we are a committed part. The Irish Government needs to make this clear to the US.

We also have to stand up to Trump's attempts to row back decades of progress against pollution. The US cannot simply walk away selfishly from a challenge of such global importance. We have to protect the rules-based international order. Otherwise, we will have an international "free for all", which will damage America as much as anyone else.

Trump is under the Brexit delusion that his country is immune to the outside world. But it is not.

As we see on Northern Ireland, Trump is quite unlike other US presidents: he is a serious disruptor. Only this week, he escalated his trade war with China and began another one with Mexico.

But we need to rise above this disruption and push back against American unilateralism where we can, and make our case clear on issues like Brexit and Europe.

Ireland has always needed to address its three key rings of outside influence - the UK, the US and the European Union. We are lucky in that we are within the enhanced strength of the European Union, with a bigger market than the US, as Trump well knows.

If the past year has shown us anything, it is that our future remains at the core of the European Union, which has stood with us when the British, on a similar disruptive journey to Trump's, took the UK out of the European project without regard for our island and an EU border going across it.

Our commitment to the EU has only grown from watching the crisis in our go-it-alone neighbour, and the sight of them fawning over Trump and his family in London. At least we are not in that position.

In fact, we are in quite a good position, and it is actually the same position as we've always had. We are members of the EU, but we are also close allies of the US. We have always had to play a tricky game with our international position, and it has worked to our advantage.

I sat in the UN for Ireland and I saw this clearly. I was seated between Israel, Iraq and Iran and we were the only ones talking to all three. The others were all at war with one another. 'Ireland at the UN', quipped an Irish Independent headline, 'between Iraq and a hard place'.

In reality, the world is a hard place. And it has always been thus.

Those who lament the current uncertainty seem to forget about the Cold War and the prospect of a global nuclear conflict. And let's not forget: Trump hasn't invaded anywhere - yet. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, aided by Tony Blair, and look where that got us.

Things are never as bad as they seem, and the Irish, like people everywhere, have got used to uncertainty. When then-US president Ronald Reagan visited in 1984, there were bigger protests than anything against Trump - and yet the visit was a great success. When Richard Nixon came to Dublin in 1970, there were eggs thrown at his car.

We have got used to uncomfortable assertions of American power, but at the end of the day, we know how our bread is buttered. We know that the US has been a long-time ally, for Ireland and for Europe. Welcoming the current president is part of that, even if we disagree on many fundamentals. We may even get him to see the reality of what Brexit actually means, and what it could do to peace in Ireland.

Trump is a bit of a bully and respects those who talk back. Two years ago, a tiny rare snail held up the building of a coastal wall at Trump's Doonbeg resort. Sometimes, even the smallest of creatures can slow down the reach of a global leader. We could learn from that.

Irish Independent

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