Did you hear the one about the Irish Prime Minister who travelled from Dublin to County Clare to meet an American President stricken with logorrhea? Fortunately, the Prime Minister was Leo Varadkar, a forty-year-old politician who, as the first openly gay leader of a country where the Roman Catholic Church still plays a significant role, knows a thing or two about defusing potentially awkward situations.
Making his opening remarks at a joint press conference at Shannon Airport on Wednesday, Donald Trump, who had just flown across the Irish Sea on Air Force One, brought up Brexit and said, “I just left some very good people that are very much involved with Brexit, as you know.” Varadkar, a staunch pro-European, gave a mute nod. Since taking office, almost two years ago, he has spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with the potential fallout of Brexit for Ireland, including the tortuous question of what will become of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which has been largely dismantled since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 secured fragile peace on the Emerald Isle. If the border issue doesn’t get resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, it could lead to the unwinding of the Agreement, which would be a tragedy for Ireland.
It’s hard to know precisely how Varadkar would describe his interlocutors on the British side, and particularly the Brexit hard-liners like Boris Johnson. The phrase “very good people” probably isn’t the first one that would come to his lips. Oblivious as ever, Trump went on, “I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border. I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it’s going to work out very well here.”
According to Miriam Lord, a sketch writer for the Irish Times, there was “a quiet gasp” from the Irish contingent in the room when Trump said “your wall, your border.” Throughout Ireland, the dismantling of the concertina wire and military fortifications that used to disfigure parts of the line of demarcation between the twenty-six counties of the Republic and the six of Northern Ireland is seen as a massively welcome development. These days, countless people from both countries cross the border unimpeded to work, shop, or visit friends and family. Varadkar, his face a mask, didn’t react immediately. Then he reached out his right hand toward Trump and interjected politely, “The main thing we want to avoid, of course, is a border or a wall between both sides.”
At that point, Trump finally seemed to take the cue, or at least part of it. “I think you do; I think you do,” he said quickly. “The way it works now is good. You want to try and keep it that way. I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit, is your border. And I’m sure it’s going to work out well. I know they’re focussed very heavily on it.”
Given the political chaos in the United Kingdom, Varadkar has no reason to believe that Brexit will work out well. This time, though, he held his tongue. As he explained to reporters after his visitor had left, it is vital for Ireland to maintain a good relationship with the United States, a country with which it has close historical and economic ties. Right now, for example, Varadkar’s government is pushing for a new deal on visas for Irish people looking to work in America, which Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, has blocked. In response to questions, Trump said he had spoken to Cotton and was confident the visa deal would be approved.
Varadkar will take that as a diplomatic win. Rather than castigating Trump for his ill-informed comments about Brexit and the Irish border, he went out of his way to make excuses for him, remarking, “You know, he is President of America and there are nearly two hundred countries in the world. So I don’t think it’s possible for him to have an in-depth and detailed understanding of issues in every single country.”
If that sounded like a first-grade teacher making allowances for a wayward pupil, many of Varadkar’s electors, although not all of them—in Ireland as in England, his visit sparked widespread protests—will give the Prime Minister a pass. “Like him or loathe him, Donald J Trump is president of the United States, a long and stalwart ally of Ireland,” Eamon Delaney, a columnist for the Irish Independent, wrote on Thursday. “None of us has to be told how important the Americans are in terms of investment, family ties, cultural and democratic principles and achieving peace in Northern Ireland.”
Furthermore, it’s not as if the Irish are unaware of what sort of man they are dealing with. Before departing England on Wednesday, Trump granted an interview to his friend and toady, Piers Morgan, who is now a host on morning television. The President’s ability to say just about anything was, yet again, on full display. On climate change: “I believe there is a change in the weather, and I think it changes both ways.” On the Democratic field for 2020: “These are crazy people.” On Adolf Hitler: “He was going through countries like cheese.” On the Vietnam War: “I thought it was very far away. . . . You know, you’re talking about Vietnam, and at that time nobody had ever heard of the country.”
The Irish, not lacking in loquaciousness themselves, have some colorful phrases for inveterate bullshitters. A “gasman” is someone whose patter can be funny. A “gobshite” merely spouts nonsense. Since Trump is only unintentionally amusing, the latter term is the one that is best applied to him, but not by anyone attached to the Irish government—not in public, anyway. “Mr. Trump looked very different from what the pictures show,” Pat Breen, the minister of state for trade, employment, and business, said, after taking part in the bilateral meeting. “In fact he is a fine-looking man, and very pleasant.”
Breen isn’t an entirely disinterested party, of course. In the Irish Parliament, he represents a constituency in Clare, where the Trump Organization operates Doonbeg, an upscale golf resort that overlooks the Atlantic and employs about two hundred people. (Trump and his family are staying there on this trip.) “We talked about the important role that the resort in Doonbeg plays in the local economy,” Breen went on. “He has a genuine interest in Ireland. He said he would be back again.”
Click Here: highlanders rugby gear world
But not for a while, probably. The President is flying back to Washington on Friday. When he arrives, he will find a less friendly audience: a Speaker of the House who said while he was gone that she wants to see him in prison, and a Democratic Party that, despite the Speaker’s hesitations, appears to be gearing up to impeach him. Trump might well wish he were back at Doonbeg.