Monday 11 December 2017

Green White House speech applauded but look beneath the glossy exterior

Editorial Comment

Taoiseach Enda Kenny can be rightly proud of his St Patrick's Day visit Stateside in what was arguably the trickiest diplomatic meeting to date between an Irish head of state and a newly elected US president.

Thanks to the latter's colourful campaign, many leaders from around the world haven't held back in their criticism of Donald Trump's comments concerning race and women's rights. But not all nations have the privilege of an annual face-to-face meeting with the Commander-in-Chief and Enda Kenny can be pleased at how he dealt with a man who is anything but shy when it comes to speaking before he thinks.

Mr Kenny successfully expressed the frustrations of families back home over the issue of emigration and he posited Ireland's story of emigration all over the world, while reminding the new administration about the positive contributions made by Irish immigrants.

But while language is one thing, Realpolitik is somewhat different.

This is why we must resist the temptation to see the Taoiseach's US visit for more than it actually was. Yes, it was a pleasant and purposeful engagement but proof of success can only be determined by the private discussions behind the scenes. The day is long gone when a bowl of shamrock and a few quips about the 'old sod' carry any weight with voters.

At the core of Irish concerns is the treatment of the 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US - many of whom have built lives and reared families in the US but who continue to miss family funerals and weddings back in Ireland. President Trump may say he wants to maintain strong links with Ireland but, ultimately, he won't treat Irish immigrants any different than those from other countries.

And beneath the glossy exterior of the White House ceremony are genuine concerns over Ireland's ability to attract and maintain investment from the US. Just hours after the shamrock had been handed over, Press Secretary Sean Spicer used Ireland as an example of just how to cut corporation tax and entice oversees investment.

Make no mistake about it, this US administration has a mandate to reclaim its own industries and get them to invest at home - which spells trouble for us. Currently, Ireland has approximately 140,000 jobs that are reliant on US companies investing here and they are all on Trump's radar.

Mr Kenny did very well during the recent White House ceremony in what are unprecedented times in US/Irish relations and while the Taoiseach's focus now switches to internal party squabbles, one hopes that he, in some small way, managed to assuage the problematic scenarios this State faces with the US in the years ahead.

There will always be enough growth to ensure US Presidents receive a bowl of shamrock every year. But economic growth is less certain in the current climate - one hopes Mr Kenny managed to convey this message with some success to Mr Trump.

Wexford People

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