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'Trump for Taoiseach': Rival protest groups greet President ... well out of view of the President

A pro-Trump demonstration was dwarfed by a much larger ‘anti’ one on the outskirts of Shannon.

President Trump state visit to Ireland Source: PA Wire/PA Images

THE ANTI-TRUMP demonstration on the outskirts of Shannon had been well flagged – anti-war group Shannonwatch had been publicising what it described as a family-friendly protest to coincide with Donald Trump’s first visit to Ireland as US President. A range of other groups, including environmentalists and pro-Palestine organisations, would also take part. 

The presence of the pro-Trump demonstrators came as something of a surprise, however. 

There were just a handful of them as TheJournal.ie arrived at the protest site, on the edge of the Shannon Free Zone, shortly after Air Force One landed this afternoon.

By 7pm, there were around 30 pro-Trumpers gathered on the side of the road opposite the Shannonwatch demonstration and peace camp – their ‘God Bless Trump’ signs and Israeli flags at odds with the ‘Not Welcome’ placards and Palestinian colours across the divide. 

“I came here to welcome President Trump because he’s being lambasted everywhere, and he’s a great man for Christians – a great man for Christian values,” Tipperary woman Katherine Purcell said as she stood draped in an Israeli flag. 

Asked what she made of accusations of sexism and racism against the President she said she didn’t care about his past, he had proven he was for Christian values by “walking the walk”, she said, going on to pay tribute to his pro-life stance. 

President Trump state visit to Ireland Source: Brian Lawless/PA WIRE

Helen O’Brien, from Co Limerick, said she disagreed with a narrative set down by the media painting Trump as anti-woman, pointing out that he had hired women and promoted women during his time as a businessman and developer. 

She also hit out at President Michael D Higgins for his intervention ahead of Trump’s arrival: in a speech yesterday Higgins described the US decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord as “regressive and pernicious”.

The Irish President’s words were hypocritical, she insisted – arguing that if he really wanted to make a point about climate change he should stop using air transport himself.

“I can’t understand why the president of our country is not here today when he actually sent his condolences to a very dangerous man who died recently [Fidel Castro] … So where’s the hypocrisy here? It’s not with Donald Trump. He should be here today… He talks about inclusion, he’s the hypocrite.”

The pro-Trump demonstrators said they weren’t from any specific organisation – but had arranged the protest at short notice on Facebook in recent days. Many knew each other from various pro-life groups, one woman explained.

They were mostly from Limerick, Tipperary and Clare, they said – although one woman had taken a bus from Waterford specifically to show her support for the President. 

The peace camp

It was a different story altogether across the road – with representatives, according to organisers, from a long (long) list of groups including: Extinction Rebellion Clare, Futureproof Clare, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), Gaza Action Ireland, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, the Irish Anti-War Movement, Veterans for Peace, and Galway Alliance Against War.

The anti-Trumpers far outnumbered their rival demonstrators across the road, with newly-elected MEP Clare Daly among the crowd of just over 200. 

President Trump state visit to Ireland Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Two US women, who now live in Ireland, said they felt compelled to turn out to show that Trump doesn’t represent all Americans. Asked what message she hoped the President would pick up if he happened to catch the protest on the news one of them, Joanna, said “I really don’t think he’s of this planet so there’s really no point in trying to get a message through to him, because he doesn’t respect the message other than what he believes”. 

Asked why they had decided to turn out, other protesters listed a familiar litany: his sexist views, his apparent racism, US-led wars, his attitude towards migrants.  The messages on the anti-Trump signs, as you might imagine, ran the gamut from the humorous to the unrepeatable. At one side of the protest site, someone had set up a makeshift swing with a sign making reference to the much publicised travails of a certain Fine Gael TD. 

Despite the presence of the rival groups the atmosphere, for the most part, was reasonably good-natured: A woman in a pro-life ‘Love Both’ high-vis did a little jig at one point, as a young musician played her fiddle on the stage across at the larger demonstration. Another woman in the pro-Trump contingent said she respected everyone’s right to assemble peacefully. 

On the far side of the road, stewards occasionally asked some of the more enthusiastic demonstrators to refrain from engaging with the pro-Trumpers, after a handful shouted at them across the divide.

At one point a middle-aged man in a Cure t-shirt walked towards the ‘pro’ demonstrators with two middle fingers raised. A garda told him to “stop that now”. 

“I’m sorry, I’m American,” he offered. 

Later, boos rang out from the anti-Trump side as a convoy of around a dozen official-looking vehicles sped by under Garda escort. There were cheers from across the road. 

The President, however, had already departed by air. He boarded Marine One shortly after his meeting with the Taoiseach to head directly to his Doonbeg resort on the Co Clare coast. 

A peace camp will be maintained by the anti-war protesters for the duration of this presidential visit. Tents had already been pitched and a campfire set up by this afternoon. 

The evening’s anti-Trump protest culminated with the handing over to gardaí of two Shannonwatch petitions – one for Trump, the other for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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