IF Leo Varadkar had been hoping for a mild, diplomatic press conference with Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon, he would have been disappointed.
While Brexit is almost universally seen as a historic and catastrophic mistake in Ireland, one which Mr Varadkar and his Government are vehemently opposed to, Mr Trump wasted almost no time before talking it up, as the two spoke to the press in the Shannon Airport terminal.
“It’s an honour to be here, we’ll discuss various things, probably you’ll (Varadkar) ask me about Brexit, because I just left some very good people who are very much involved with Brexit as you know. I think it’ll all work out, all work out very well and also for you, with your wall, your border. We have a border situation in the United States and you have one over here. I think they’re both going to work out well.
“Both the military and trade are a very big factor and we’re going to be discussing that very much. It’s an honour to be in Ireland with my friend, he’s doing a great job as your Prime Minister,” said Mr Trump.
The Taoiseach said almost nothing during the press conference but he will rarely be met with a representative of a foreign country so clearly and openly in conflict with his own views.
One of the few things the Taoiseach did say during the press conference was to clarify that Ireland is trying to avoid a “wall” or hard border and taking his cue, Mr Trump said, “The way it works now (the border) is good, you want to try and keep it that way. I know it’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit and I’m sure it’s going to work out well.”
When it was put to him that some may hold the view that Brexit will work for the UK, but it is widely expected to be a negative for this country, Mr Trump replied, “I think it should be good. The main thing is going to be your border and hopefully that’s going to work out. There are a lot of good minds thinking about how to do it and it’s going to be just fine. “I think, ultimately, it will be very, very good for Ireland but the border will work out.”
Just outside the airport, people were protesting against Mr Trump’s environmental policy, while prior to the visit, President Michael D Higgins urged the US to “reconsider its regressive and pernicious decision to leave the global Paris Agreement”.
When President Higgins’ comments were put to Mr Trump, he said that he had been unaware of them and then began to boast, “I haven’t heard those comments but we have the cleanest air in the world in the United States and it’s gotten better since I’m President. We have the cleanest water, crystal clear”.
Returning again to the “regressive and pernicious” charge, he added, “I haven’t heard his comments but we’re setting records environmentally”.
Proposals to extend the E3 visa to Ireland have failed in the past, but President Trump said that he wants the issue to be resolved positively, allowing Irish people to access them.
“Yeah, we’re looking at that, we almost made it the last time, it was one vote. I’m sure that’s something that we’re going to discuss. I spoke to the one vote, whose a great Senator (Arkansas’s Tom Cotton) by the way, he really is. We think we’re going to be successful, he’s a terrific Senator, he doesn’t mean to do any harm, that I can tell you, he tells me he loves Ireland actually, so I think we’re going to be in good shape.
“If we get a unanimous vote, it’s something that they’ve been trying to do for a long time and I want to do that for the people of Ireland and I want to do it for the people of the United States that want this vote to happen, that happen to be of Irish descent.”
Questions about international relations were dealt with and it is clear that his views on undocumented immigration from Mexico haven’t softened very much while in office. “Mexico, the drugs that are coming in, the people that are coming in unchecked, they’re swamping up, they’re coming up by the millions. Mexico can stop it, they have to stop it, otherwise we just won’t be able to do business, it’s a very simple thing,” he said.
Ireland’s corporate tax rate has been targeted by President Trump in the past and asked if he would be speaking about it with Mr Varadkar, he said, “You mean the fact that it’s so low? It is a very low tax I have to agree, we have our tax very, very low, but they have done a very good job in Ireland and your Prime Minister has kept it there. There are a lot of great companies here”.
He also praised Mr Varadkar and stressed the historic links between the two countries. “The Prime Minister has done a fantastic job and we have become friends over the last period of time.
“There is a great relationship with Ireland, I think as good as it has ever been, maybe better. Tremendous trade, we do a lot of business together, a lot of tourism together, maybe most importantly Ireland is one of the leading countries in terms of moving to and living in the United States. We have millions of Irish, I think I know most of them because they’re my friends.”