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Official Ireland's welcome for Donald Trump was more muted than céad míle fáilte

Judging by previous presidential visits, this wasn’t the reddest of red carpets.

Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart Air Force One at Shannon Airport.
Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart Air Force One at Shannon Airport.
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Images

DONALD TRUMP’S VISIT to Ireland presented a challenge to pretty much everyone involved on this side of the Atlantic.

For the government, its challenge was to appear respectful without being deferential.

For the locals and employees in Doonbeg, the challenge was to simply host the president and his huge entourage in the glare of a huge press pack.

For the media itself, it was about covering a huge Irish event without losing sight of the moral questions that come with Trump’s presidency.

Whether or not each succeeded is up for debate – but any suggestion that the reception from official Ireland was on the fawning side ignores the fact that it was pretty muted compared to US presidential visits.

There are seven comparisons we can look at, but first, let’s look at the most recent one.

Comparing the visit of Trump to that made by Barack Obama in 2011 is not a case of comparing the two presidents. That would be a false equivalence given who they are, their policies and how differently each is regarded outside of the United States.

But comparing their reception here is illustrative because it shows that Ireland didn’t go all out in giving Trump the céad míle fáilte.

Neither Obama’s nor Trump’s visits to Ireland were State visits. In fact, Obama’s was barely much of a visit at all considering he didn’t stay overnight in the country.

Obama’s visit was an “official” one, as it was termed by the Department of the Taoiseach at the time, a sort of extended stopover ahead of a three-day State visit to the UK.

Obama’s time in Ireland lasted all of 12 hours but in that time he managed to: meet then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Farmleigh, greet then-President Mary McAleese in the Áras, travel to Moneygall for a pint and then return to Dublin to address a huge crowd in College Green. 

Trump is also using Ireland as a base for bigger events in the UK and France but the US president is also spending two nights on Irish soil. Even if those nights are in one of his own hotels.

Despite the length of this stay, there was no meeting for Trump with President Higgins and the meeting with Varadkar was held in the rather less salubrious surrounds of an airport terminal.

While that meeting was happening, President Higgins was hosting a garden party and Health Minister Simon Harris got a thinly veiled dig in at Trump from the safety of the Áras.

Varadkar only tweeted once about his meeting with Trump on Wednesday, and a rather muted six words at that.

Then the following day, Trump hosted an event in Doonbeg rather than being hosted himself.

The most senior government representative at this was John Deasy TD, government envoy to the US Congress but not someone of Cabinet level.

Of course, Ireland has historically held a far stronger affection for Democratic presidents than Republican ones.

Republican presidential visits are usually marked by more protests than cheers – but even by those standards the metaphorical carpet rolled out for Trump was rather less red.

President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ireland was controversial at the time, coming in 1984 as the US was engaged in an escalation of the Cold War and in military intervention in South America.

But even during that visit, Reagan managed to speak to crowds in Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary in an event that was broadcast live on RTÉ.

Trump’s arrival was not broadcast on RTÉ television nor did he have any formal speech planned.

In defence of the people of Doonbeg as well, there was no stage set for Trump there, just an open door in the local pubs. 

US President arrives in County Clare US President George Bush and his wife Laura with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. (2004) Source: PA Images

President George W Bush also came here in 2004 as part of an EU-US summit that was hosted in Dromoland Castle, Co Clare.

That trip took place just over a year after the US-led invasion of Iraq and sparked widespread protests and a huge security operation. 

Despite the opposition, Bush still managed to meet with both President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. 

Both Irish leaders were reported to have raised issues about the Iraq War with Bush, demonstrating the balancing act Ireland was contending with during the visit. 

The same could be said this time around but even more so.  Trump’s visit required an even more delicate balancing act and the low-key welcome was clearly less than any presidential visit we’ve seen before.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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