'He is a godsend' - Doonbeg gears up for Trump visit - despite the doubts
US president Donald Trump may not have officially confirmed his expected visit to Ireland in June, but preparations continue apace in one corner of the west where he will be welcomed with open arms.
Despite doubts over Mr Trump's visit, the Irish Independent understands that US officials are still making preparations for the visit with planning said to be "full steam ahead".
The uncertainty came amid reports that there was disagreement over the location for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Opposition politicians and activist groups are planning to hold mass protests.
But locals in Doonbeg, Co Clare, are preparing a warm welcome.
Mr Trump and his wife Melania are expected to stay at his hotel and golf resort at the village and use it as a base to attend D-Day commemorations in France.
"Everybody knows him and he has done great things for the village and the west Clare area," according to Senan McCarthy, the owner of Danubio Guest Accommodation.
"He is a godsend for the employment in that area," he added.
There has been puzzlement in Government circles over why there has been no official announcement by the White House as yet. One report suggested there was a dispute over the Government's wish that any meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Varadkar take place on neutral ground away from Doonbeg. Dromoland Castle has been mooted as a possible location.
US sources last night insisted that planning was ongoing for Mr Trump's visit.
Sources on the Irish side said they were waiting patiently to hear from the White House.
They expressed surprise that Dromoland would be an issue capable of derailing the visit.
"The current administration operates in its own way. We just have to wait until we hear from the Oval Office. We could find out for definite by Tweet," a source said.
Mr Varadkar said the Government had had "no update as of yet" about a visit by Mr Trump.
He said the issue of a neutral venue for a meeting between the pair hadn't been discussed with him.
Mr Varadkar said: "I imagine if the visit is being planned that there'll be conversations between the ambassadors on an official level."
Asked if he would be happy to go to Doonbeg, he replied: "If the president visits Ireland, I'd be very happy to receive him on behalf of the Irish people but any details of the programme really aren't worked out at this stage."
He added: "The visit isn't even necessarily happening, and will only happen if there's an announcement from the White House."
In Doonbeg, local Fine Gael councillor Gabriel Keating said: "There will be a big welcome for Donald Trump when he comes to Doonbeg.
"The whole area is steeped in tourism and we need investors like him. He is boosting the economy of the area and will hopefully continue to do so."
Rita McInerney, general election candidate for Fianna Fáil, said: "He is a democratically elected leader. We don't have to agree with his politics. He is simply a property owner and a big employer in the area."
Cathleen Whelan, of Whelan's Foodstore and Deli, also agreed that "he is one of the few major employers that is left around here at the moment".
She added that it "will hopefully be busy for businesses in the village during his visit."
Meanwhile, the views of Clare-based members of the Oireachtas to a Trump visit ranged from welcoming to ambivalent.
Local Fine Gael junior minister Pat Breen said he hoped Mr Trump would visit in June, emphasising the importance of the trade and business links between Ireland and the US.
He said that along with the Irish Open in Lahinch, the visit would be a "great opportunity to showcase our beautiful coastline".
Independent TD Dr Michael Harty said Mr Trump should be welcomed if he comes to Clare due to the office he holds and his investment there. However, he added that he had "little or nothing in common" with Mr Trump's views on a range of issues including immigration. He added: "If he comes, well and good. If he doesn't, it wouldn't be any skin off my nose."
Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley said the Trump family investment in Doonbeg had been "a positive". However, he criticised Mr Trump's support for Brexit and his "championing" of Nigel Farage.
Fine Gael senator Martin Conway said: "I won't be joining protests. But I certainly won't be laying out the red carpet either." He said many people aren't comfortable with Mr Trump's views, adding: "I certainly am not." He accused Mr Trump of "populist nonsense" over his planned border wall with Mexico. He also said of the visit: "We have to be careful not to buy into a complete hysteria around it."
Mr Conway said there were important links between Ireland and the US.