Where politics is personal not partisan

Scot-itude – US-Irish Relations – Tough Talk from Enda Kenny

Trump is just having problems dealing with the British Isles. Looks like Ireland is no exception, based on his talk with Enda Kenny. Happy St. Patrick’s Day?

Ahead of St Patrick’s Day, President Trump welcomed the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny into the White House.  Both dressed in notable green ties, they were filmed shaking hands and smiling.  Trump has declared his love for Ireland, and Kenny congratulated the President on his electoral victory.  However, behind the smiles and good-humored civility, the meeting between Kenny and Trump has included discussion on controversial topics.  The US visit is also diplomatically awkward for the leader of Ireland.  However, Kenny has politically justified his decision to travel to the US, and is on record stating:

“It’s about symbolic contribution that the Irish made to America over 250 years and we’ll continue to make.”

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric with regard to Trump is notably more restrained than comments he made prior to the US general election.  Kenny previously condemned Trump, and challenged him for using “dangerous” dialogue.  Following the presidential election, a political opponent of Kenny, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, sharply criticized the Irish Government for not taking a hard enough stance against Trump following the announcement of his presidential victory.  Senator Ó Riordáin’s passionate speech went viral on the Internet, and was shared on the Facebook page of Occupy Democrats.  Senator Ó Riordáin was critical of Kenny’s diplomatic phone call to Trump in the wake of the election.

Despite Kenny appearing to backtrack on previous statements, the meeting between the two leaders has also underlined sharp political differences between the governments of the US and Ireland.  One of the issues that Kenny focused on was the issue relating to undocumented Irish immigrants who are currently living in the US.  The Irish Prime Minister is of the opinion that Trump should revise his stance on immigration, and appreciate the contribution that undocumented Irish nationals have on US society.  Additionally, Kenny would like to see the US provide more work visas for Irish citizens who seek a new life in the US.

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America has a significant Irish diaspora, and while the nation is commonly referred to as a country of immigrants, Ireland on the other hand has a reputation for being a country of emigrants.  The popular 2015 film Brooklyn, a British-Canadian-Irish production, touched the hearts of many, and followed the life experience of a young homesick woman who left Ireland for a new life in 1950s New York.  It was a story that was not just about the experience of the protagonist, Eilis, but it provided a social documentation on the realities of life as both an emigrant and immigrant.  The film also touched upon the Irish workers who moved to the US, and contributed toward the construction of NYC.

The visit of the Irish leader and his bold statement that undocumented Irish immigrants help to “make America great”, has sparked further discussion on Trump’s continued condemnation of illegal immigration, and his attitudes on immigration in general.  Kenny’s visit to the US has also encouraged the Democratic Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, to further weigh in on the policies promoted by the White House.  As part of Kenny’s visit to the US, Mayor Walsh, who is of Irish decent, held a joint press conference with the Prime Minister.  During the address, Walsh stated that the Irish Government must also stand up for other immigrants, and he reiterated his concerns with regard to Trump’s Executive Order targeting several Muslim-majority countries.  Walsh also made the following statement:

“I’m a proud son of Irish immigrants, but I would not be supportive of rules and regulations that just benefit people who are undocumented Irish.”  

The Irish leader’s comments are unlikely to go down well with US voters who were inspired by Trump’s political campaign to protect the country’s borders and to crack down on illegal immigration.  Trump’s get-tough policies and attitudes with regard to immigration are a central feature of his governance.  According to recent information announced by Custom and Border Protection, illegal border crossings in the Southwest have plummeted by 40% last month.  Many have attributed this statistic to the election of Donald Trump, while others have highlighted that a drop in the number of crossings are not simply due to deterrence measures, but also likely due to other complex reasons.  Former Immigrations and Customs Enforcement chief, John Sandweg, weighed in on the issue, stating that a decrease in crossings could be a result of other factors.  Sandweg remarked that consideration has to be given to factors such as seasonal trends, and also the efforts of the Obama Administration to crack down on smuggling networks and to improve the socioeconomic situation of citizens in countries that are a part of Central America.

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Issues with regard to immigration, trading relations, and the importance of Ireland’s economy are not the only issues on the table surrounding Kenny’s visit.  The Prime Minister has also outlined his views on the complexities facing Ireland, following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.  In a recent interview, he has asserted that Brexit is a precarious economic situation, and will have ramifications for Ireland.  Brexit is yet another issue that complicates the political and historic relationship between the US and Ireland.  It is well known that Trump was outwardly supportive of the UK leaving the EU, and on numerous occasions praised the efforts of political figures such as Nigel Farage who have engaged in long-standing anti-EU campaigns over the years.

Brexit remains an extremely polarizing issue, and it has also prompted Sinn Fein, an Irish republican party, to call for a referendum on whether or not Northern Ireland should leave the UK and unify with the Republic of Ireland.  There is a great deal of uncertainly and anxiety surrounding Brexit, and Kenny has used his visit across the Atlantic to express his concerns.

While Trump and Kenny have exchanged pleasantries and are highlighting the importance of US-Irish relations, the visit has sparked further debate with regard to key political issues in both nations.

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Fiona Trafton
About Fiona Trafton 16 Articles
Fiona Trafton has worked for elected officials in both the European and Scottish Parliament as a political staffer. She now lives in the Greater Seattle area with her husband. Fiona is a professional writer with extensive experience in ghost writing, blogging and message development -- to name but a few. When she is not writing, she enjoys photography, art, following her favorite soccer team and traveling.
Contact: Twitter

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