Saturday 17 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'All Trump wants is a game of golf - and holiday snaps for folks at home'

Donald Trump. Photo: AP Photo/Mike Roemer
Donald Trump. Photo: AP Photo/Mike Roemer
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Donald Trump thinks we're smart, sharp and brutal enemies - but what will people here make of his likely visit next month?

Irish people pride themselves on being good hosts, especially when someone has made a big trip. It's something we learn from our mothers.

But it appears Mr Trump is looking for less fuss than we might have expected. He was originally due to come here last November after taking part in the Armistice Day commemorations in France.

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At the time, sources told me he wanted "bells and whistles", suggesting the president wanted to be feted in Dublin before travelling to his hotel in Doonbeg. There was huge relief among officials when the visit was cancelled.

Such was the chaos behind the scenes that many in Government only learned the trip was off when it was reported on Independent.ie.

To this day, sources say the White House has never formally cancelled that visit.

But the invitation, first issued to Mr Trump by Enda Kenny in 2016, always remains open.

What makes the potential 'second coming' different is that the president will have had his fill of pomp and ceremony in the United Kingdom before he gets here.

A stop-over in Co Clare will primarily be about promoting his property and getting in a round of golf - but it will also be about electioneering.

Only recently, we were reminded of the strength of the Irish-American lobby on Capitol Hill during the visit of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Fox News reported on the Brexit tour so no doubt Mr Trump will have noted the warm reception the veteran Democrat received on both sides of the Border.

Since JFK, Ireland has always featured on the map for US presidents. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama all directed Air Force One towards this country at some point in their presidencies. Bush Sr came in 1983 when he was vice-president.

While Reagan and Bush Jr did attract their fair share of protesters, the aim around all the visits was similar. They wanted solid PR that plays well with the 35 million who claim Irish ancestry.

Ronald Reagan got a pub named after him in Ballyporeen. Bill Clinton has a statue in Ballybunion. And weirdly Barack Obama's visit gave birth to a petrol station off the M7 near Moneygall.

Mr Trump already has his little piece of Ireland, the 18-hole championship course and luxury hotel in Doonbeg that he bought for a bean (€8.7m) as the country emerged from the recession.

He has only actually been to the scenic village once. That was back in 2014 when the idea of the billionaire taking over the Oval Office was still a joke.

Then finance minister Michael Noonan famously rolled out a red carpet and welcomed him off 'Trump Force One', along with a harpist, singer and violinist and joined by local dignitaries.

Mr Noonan was later forced to defend the gushing hospitality, arguing he would have done the same if it was the boss of an IDA factory who was arriving with 300 jobs.

This time around, it will be Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who will have to travel down to Clare to welcome the businessman-turned-politician. A diplomatic nightmare awaits.

The Government will pitch any visit as an opportunity to reinforce the strong historic, economic, cultural and family ties shared by the US and Ireland. But, in reality, they will want to get Mr Trump in and out of the country as quickly as possible.

The fact Dublin is off the agenda makes things immeasurably easier but the protesters will find their way to Clare - just like they did when George W Bush stayed at Dromoland Castle.

On that occasion, around 1,000 people marched from Shannon to the castle but were stopped on the N18 around a mile away. An eight-foot metal fence literally formed a ring of steel around the venue.

In the end that occasion made headlines around the world, not because of the protests, but because a camera caught the president in his underwear through a window.

With an election campaign looming faster than many on this side of the Atlantic realise, Mr Trump won't want any such drama from his Irish stopover. But he knows names like Biden, O'Rourke and Ryan are lining up to get on the Democratic ticket, so he will want plenty of holiday snaps for the folks back home.

Irish Independent

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