After Brexit, Ireland could be Trump’s closest ally in the EU – that’s why we should welcome him with open arms

During a period of significant global challenges and unprecedented uncertainty concerning Brexit, Irish-American relations must not be overshadowed by any individuals or administrations

Niall Walsh
Monday 03 September 2018 16:52
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Trump's administration is essential in order to secure and prosper Irish-US relations in the coming years
Trump's administration is essential in order to secure and prosper Irish-US relations in the coming years

Before Donald Trump visits Ireland, it is worth remembering that Irish-American relations are historic, unique and have survived the test of several centuries.

After spending eight weeks touring Ireland in 1771, Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, proclaimed that the ‘‘patriots’’ of Ireland were all on ‘‘the American side of the question’’.

Then, in 1962, President John F Kennedy praised those ‘‘gallant’’ Irishmen who fought during the American civil war and the Irish community that contributed to American life.

On the annual St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the US helped build modern Ireland and gave thanks for accommodating millions of Irish diaspora. President Donald Trump responded by saying he ‘‘loved the Irish’’ and described the ‘‘shared bonds’’ between the two countries.

Yet the negative reaction to the news that President Trump will visit Ireland for two days in November gives a false impression that there is deep-rooted conflict between the two nations. And during a period of significant global challenges and unprecedented uncertainty concerning Brexit, Irish-American relations must not be overshadowed by any individuals or administrations.

Already, two ministers have announced that they will boycott any state events with Trump in November, citing the president’s morality, his comments on women and children and his controversial policies such as the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

Over 30,000 people have expressed an interest in or said they would attend an anti-Trump protest in Dublin on 10 November – a far cry from the thousands who turned out to greet President Obama in central Dublin in 2011.

There are several reasons we need close US-Irish relations. One is Northern Ireland. Many people forget that senator George Mitchell, the first US envoy to Northern Ireland in 1995, played a seminal role in mediating between different sides in the Northern Irish civil conflict and the eventual signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Twenty years on, the situation in Northern Ireland is precarious. The US special envoy to Northern Ireland remains unfilled under Donald Trump’s presidency. The economic fallout from Brexit, the threat of a hard border between the South and North of Ireland, and the absence of government in Stormont over political differences threaten the longevity of the Good Friday Agreement.

Close relations between the Irish and American governments will enable Taoiseach Varadkar to discuss the seriousness of the situation in Northern Ireland and put pressure on President Trump to fill the position.

Ireland’s trade with the UK, worth around €65bn every year and 400,000 jobs, is set to be hit the most by Brexit. Therefore, strong Irish-American relations are essential if Ireland is to continue to reap the rewards that US investment offers the Irish economy; already, 700 US companies have investment in Ireland, employing around 150,000. Reassurance, however, has come from Irish Ambassador to America, Dan Mulhall, who expects that ‘‘that US companies who feel a need to have a base within the European Union would see Ireland as a more attractive option because perhaps Britain may be less attractive on account of Brexit.’’

In terms of diplomacy, Brexit provides a unique opportunity for Ireland to expand its relevance in US-EU relations. After Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking nation left in the EU and will likely replace the UK as the European country with the strongest relationship with the US.

Away from Brexit, close cooperation between Washington and Dublin will provide a platform for political leaders to talk about their differences. For example, the Irish government condemned the US policy to separate children from their families at the Mexican border. Other issues, such as Ireland’s ban of the importation of goods from Israeli settlement zones, its sympathies to the Palestinian cause and its condemnation of the US’ withdrawal from the climate change Paris Agreement, are issues that both countries disagree on but can discuss in the framework of strong diplomatic ties.

Additionally, Ireland is fighting against Canada and Norway for a two-year UN Security Council seat, starting in 2021. Support from the US will be important if Ireland is to win the seat and play a pivotal role in UN decision-making on international peace, security and development.

President Donald Trump is a highly controversial figure and will generate division wherever he goes. However, his administration is essential in order to secure and prosper Irish-US relations in the coming years. His visit should be welcomed and respected.

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