Originally published by the Evening Echo, 6 February 2017.
Over the last two weeks, we might have asked ourselves: what does Donald Trump have to do in order for Enda Kenny to be ashamed of the idea of visiting him for St Patrick’s Day? The following actions by Trump, all of which were taken in his first week, have not deterred the Taoiseach from his planned visit in March: restricting the travel of millions of Muslims, endorsing torture, announcing of the publication of lists of immigrants who have committed crimes, halting the Syrian refugee intake, and sacking the attorney general after she disagreed with his travel ban. Is there anything that Trump could do that would make Kenny re-think his plans?
Yet Kenny is determined to go: his office has insisted that he must go, to “maintain the historically strong links between the Irish and American peoples”. We hear repeatedly these same arguments in favour of good relations between the Irish government and the Trump administration: the Irish economy supposedly needs the US onside if it is to function. There is somehow the accepted wisdom that Enda Kenny has to visit Trump in order to safeguard jobs — multinationals will pack up and take their operations elsewhere if Irish politicians do not pander to Trump, so the logic goes. Realistically, decisions by US multinationals to invest in Ireland depend on whether it is profitable for them to do so or not. Their decisions are not based on whether or not Kenny visits for St Patrick’s Day. Jobs have been located in Ireland for a host of reasons – including the skilled English-speaking workforce, and access to European markets.
Others have taken a stand. There has indeed been resistance to Trump from a number of nations, all of which have close economic ties to the US. Following huge popular pressure from within Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his planned visit to Donald Trump. It goes without saying that the Mexican economy is heavily dependent on US investment. The Dutch government has reacted to Trump’s cut for international abortion funding by seeking to set up a new fund, and they are not living in fear of economic punishment. So the argument that the Irish economy will suffer if a visit to Trump does not take place is baseless and has little precedent.
That Trump was elected as President should not lead us to passively accept that we must continue with business as usual. Many racists and bigots throughout history were democratically elected. We should be concerned by what Trump represents, regardless of how many voted for him. Following his election, there was widespread suggestion that his presidency would not be as hard-line as his campaigning had been. The first week showed just how wrong such inclinations were: executive orders have been passed to oppress a number of communities: immigrants, women around the world, Muslims and refugees. Governments should be standing alongside those oppressed communities, not arranging to spend national holidays with the man at the forefront of their oppression.
We have to also ask how the world will view Enda Kenny visiting Donald Trump. Much of the world is revolted by the policies put forward by the US President. When Enda Kenny congratulated Trump’s election win “on behalf of the people of Ireland”, many in Ireland said that this did not represent them. The St Patrick’s Day visit will be a display to the world of an Irish celebration with a man who is hateful of many of the world’s communities – and parts of the world may interpret this as an Irish endorsement of Trump’s policies. What message about Ireland will this send to LGBT communities around the world, Muslims who have fled Middle East terror to Europe, and communities living in the Middle East?
We do not safeguard the future by cosying up to torture-advocating far-right racists and celebrating symbolic Irish holidays with them. We safeguard it by opposing and condemning characters like Trump. History will doubtless remember Trump for what he is and what he represents. Ireland should not have a place in that history as a close friend of the administration. What kind of extremism from a US president will it take for the Irish government to realise this, show some principles and not exist in a state of constant fear of economic punishment?
Many people in Ireland will want Muslims, women, black populations, and other oppressed communities to know that we oppose the hatred and division that Trump thrives upon. It seems that Enda Kenny however wishes to go down in history as the Taoiseach who went to visit Donald Trump for St Patrick’s Day. He can do so and embarrass himself in the process, or he can consider what message this visit will send to the world. Trump’s first few days saw him achieve the lowest domestic approval rating in polling history. The worldwide protests following his inauguration give us a good idea of how he is perceived internationally. Thousands of Irish citizens have voiced concern at how a visit to Trump will portray Ireland. Kenny could send a healthy message to the world and put Ireland on the right side of this crucial moment in history. He could stand up for the struggles against the hatred sown by Trump – and cancel his visit.