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Minimal pomp, no harps on the tarmac: Government can breathe easy after Shannon balancing act

The greeting went fine – but the Shannon events had the air of a box-ticking exercise.

Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

FIVE YEARS AGO, Donald Trump – a mere controversial businessman and reality TV host – touched down in Shannon Airport, greeted by singers, a harpist and a rolled-out red carpet. 

Yesterday, visiting Ireland for the first time since he became US President, it was a very different affair – as the President and First Lady made a standard exit from Air Force One to be met by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

No fanfare. Not a harpist in sight on the Shannon tarmac.

Back in 2014, Trump was best known in this part of the world for The Apprentice, his beauty pageants and for his countless self-promoting movie cameos. There was a high interest from local and national news outlets as he arrived early that summer to promote his recently purchased Doonbeg resort. 

After alighting from his private plane, businessman Trump stuck around to answer questions until reporters had run out of things to ask. Top of the agenda for the large group of Irish reporters at the time, the ‘Vertigo angustior’ — the microscopic snail that had hampered the development plans of the golf resort’s previous owners.

Today, Trump has bigger snails to fry. US headlines have been dominated in recent weeks by, amongst other things, his trade war with China and the fallout from the Mueller report.

On his visit to the UK, meanwhile, Trump showed no hesitation about weighing in on domestic political matters like the Tory leadership contest and the Brexit process. 

It came as no surprise, given Trump’s tendency to offer off-the-cuff answers on sensitive domestic issues, that the Irish government favoured meeting the US President at the airport. Short and sweet. Off the plane, a quick press conference, an hour-long meeting, and then on to Marine One and off to Doonbeg.

Trump’s resort was a source of tension for diplomats organising the visit – with the US side wanting the reception to take place there, and the Irish side preferring a neutral outside location.

Dromoland Castle was being looked at originally as the site for the meeting, but a compromise was eventually reached and Shannon chosen as the location. 

There was some speculation that the Irish leg of Trump’s European sojourn was simply about plugging Doonbeg as a tourist destination. The President denied that, however, insisting it was aimed at fostering Irish-US relations. 

As far as the airport bilateral meeting went – it was, perhaps, more of a diplomatic box-ticking exercise for the two leaders than anything else. 

Trump expressed confidence that a deal on extending the E3 visa scheme to Irish people would be reached in the future. He also answered questions on issues like Huawei, North Korea, Brexit, and Ireland’s corporate tax rates.

It’s safe to say, however, that there was a sense Trump hadn’t put the effort into keeping up with Irish concerns.

He said Brexit would be good for Ireland, and that the Irish border would “work out well”. He also drew comparisons between the Northern Ireland border and the US-Mexican one – leaving Varadkar having to hastily explain that Ireland doesn’t actually want a border.

Trump also showed little concern for the criticisms from President Michael D Higgins on his climate change stance (Higgins called it “regressive and pernicious”) – insisting that he had not heard about the comments.

Wednesday was about getting it over with – both for Trump and for the Taoiseach.

There wasn’t a bowl of shamrock to be seen as the government prioritised offering businesslike greetings without any forelock-tugging overtones. 

That said, the harps and fiddles did make an appearance next-door as Minister Josepha Madigan hosted the First Lady for an Irish cultural show.

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