herald

Sunday 25 August 2019

Brexit very good for Ireland, says Trump amid anger at €10m visit cost

Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump speak to the press at Shannon Airport.
Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump speak to the press at Shannon Airport.

There is growing anger at the €10m cost of providing security for Donald Trump's whistle-stop visit to Ireland after he said Brexit would be "very good" for this country.

Some 1,500 uniformed gardai and 500 specialist officers have been joined by the Army, Navy and Air Corps in counties Limerick and Clare.

Mr Trump and his wife Melania brought a message of "love" as they arrived in Shannon yesterday.

The president denied he was only here to promote his Doonbeg golf course, insisting he was "honoured" to be in Ireland.

He said the relationship between Ireland and America was "as good as it's ever been, maybe better".

However, thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of Dublin today to protest against his policies.

A variety of civic groups will be joined by some politicians at the Garden of Remembrance from 6pm.

Divisive

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said that by inviting Mr Trump, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had "legitimised his narrow and divisive brand of politics".

"His administration champions policies that are destroying the planet, undermining international co-operation and threatening global security and trade," she said.

Galway TD Catherine Connolly was among the small crowds at the Shannon Airport peace camp when the American delegation arrived.

She said she was there to protest on the neutrality issue, saying she did not think Shannon should be used for US troops to go on to fight wars in other countries.

"Ireland should have an active neutrality policy but it is being undermined," she said.

However, locals in Doonbeg staged a ceili last night in the hope that the billionaire might venture out from his five-star hotel and onto the streets of the tiny village.

It was clear from a photo-call in Shannon Airport that Mr Trump was not looking to create any controversy as he met with the Taoiseach.

Mr Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to criticism, denied any knowledge of comments made by President Michael D Higgins about his climate changes policies, and he said that Mr Varadkar was doing "a great job".

"We have millions of Irish and I think I know most of them because they are my friends," Mr Trump said.

While the US and Irish delegations disagreed on the issue of Brexit, sources who attended the private meeting in Shannon Airport said the atmosphere was "genuinely warm".

Mr Trump did appear badly briefed for his first visit to Ireland since taking control of the White House.

He had to be reminded that Ireland does not want a border after he compared the situation here with Mexico. Mr Trump appeared confused as to why the Irish Government is opposed to the UK leaving the EU.

"I think it'll all work out very well for you, with your wall, your border. We have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here," he said.

Mr Varadkar interrupted briefly to reminded him: "The thing we want to avoid, of course, is a border or a wall."

Asked by the Herald if he understood that Brexit would be bad for Ireland, Mr Trump said it could actually be "very, very good".

"Hopefully that will work out. I think it will work out. There's a lot of good minds thinking about how to do it. It's going to be just fine," he said.

During a private meeting between the delegations, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did raise concerns about Ireland's trade surplus with the US.

But publicly Mr Trump appeared to change his usual stance on Ireland's 12.5pc corporation tax, saying the Government "should try keeping it low".

Mr Varadkar stressed to his guests that the economic ties between the two countries were a "mutually beneficial and two-way exchange".

He pointed out that Ireland is in the top 10 when it comes to investors in the US.

On a positive note, significant progress was made in the Government's long-running campaign to win access to E3 visas for Irish citizens.

The two-year renewable visa is currently only available to Australian citizens but Mr Trump said: "I want to do it for the people of Ireland."

A single Republican senator previously blocked the move. However, Mr Trump committed to getting him across the line, telling reporters that Tom Cotton is "a great person". "He doesn't mean to do any harm, that I can tell you. He loves Ireland, actually," he added.

Mr Trump will fly from Doonbeg to France today to attend D-Day commemorations but is expected back tonight. He will play golf tomorrow morning before returning to Washington.

The massive security operation will remain in place until he leaves, with the Emergency Response Unit and Armed Support Unit on standby.

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