Opinion Editorial

Sunday 19 May 2019

Trump visit and the right to protest

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters


The visit to Ireland by US President Donald Trump in November, as part of a European tour that would also see him travel to Paris for a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice after World War I, has given rise to calls for a mass protest from the public from several politicians, including the Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin and the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Protest is very much a vibrant part of liberal democracies and should be accepted, indeed welcomed, as such. Since Donald Trump's inauguration as president, there has been a protest every day somewhere in the United States. That, too, is to be welcomed. President Trump has shown himself to be intolerant of such protests. Indeed, campaigning for the presidency, when a protester was ejected from a rally in Las Vegas, he delivered one of the first of his many shocking utterances: "I love the old days - you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." He added: "I'd like to punch him in the face."

At the time, there were those who attempted to excuse this and other such comments as part of the rough-and-tumble of election campaigning, however extreme; and predicted that the real Donald Trump would reveal himself once elevated to the Oval Office. Such a view was intended to imply that the more disturbing aspects of his campaigning style would be curtailed once in office. The president has, indeed, revealed his true self in office, and if anything, has shown it to be more extreme, and troubling, than was evident on the campaign trail. Events last week, from the publication of a book by the highly respected journalist Bob Woodward to the publication of an 'insider' article in The New York Times, reveals a presidency to be even more chaotic than heretofore believed and all the more alarming for that.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the history between Ireland and the US is rich and enduring. It is first and foremost a people-to-people relationship but it is complemented by deep political relationships that extend from local politics up to the office of the US president and transcend party affiliation. The foundation of Ireland's relationship with the US is the millions of Irish people who have found a home in the US over more than two centuries. More than 10pc (33m people) of the total US population identify as being of Irish descent. The US has also played a leading role in promoting peace and reconciliation on this island and, along with the EU, has supported peace and reconciliation programmes both North and South. Today, Ireland and the US enjoy bilateral trade in goods and services of some €100bn a year and the value of that relationship has doubled in the past decade to more than $700bn (€602.5bn).

More than 700 US companies have operations in Ireland, directly employing 155,000 people here. And it's a two-way street, with 800 Irish-owned companies operating across all 50 US states, employing more than 100,000 people there.

So, when people gather, as is their absolute right, in Dublin in November, they should do so peacefully and within the law, and also remember that their protest is against Trump, the man and president, whose policies are abhorrent to the many, but not against the US, in whose promise and greatness we must continue to believe, as the late Senator John McCain said in his final address.

Sunday Independent

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