Opinion: Enda Kenny should respect the office of President Trump

Newstalk's Chris Donoghue on why the Taoiseach's visit to the White House should go ahead

Opinion: Enda Kenny should respect the office of President Trump

Screenshot: Bloomberg TV

Enda Kenny should proudly walk into the White House in March of this year and he should treat President Donald Trump with the courtesy and respect his office, and the US people, deserve. However, he should do more than just show up. The Taoiseach should voice concern over some of President Trump's most extreme policies. He should do so clearly, politely and publicly on behalf of the Irish people.

Mr Kenny will certainly do the first two but the test of his metal and leadership will be whether he says anything President Trump might consider out of place or challenging.  

The argument for keeping Enda Kenny around has been that we need his experience and ability in the face of major tests like Brexit. What better use is there then for an elder statesman than to press home the decency and moral compass of the Irish people to President Trump?  

Boycotting isn't the answer

It is more than a showboating moment too, here is why it matters. Nearly 5-years ago I was visiting the work of Ireland's aid workers in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Those three countries have very different levels of poverty and very different governments.

In Malawi, a law was in force criminalising homosexuality. Two men had been sentenced to 14-years in prison with hard labour for engaging in sexual acts. Into this walked the then Minister with responsibility for Overseas Aid, Jan O'Sullivan. 

Behind the scene diplomats like to raise things without rocking the boat on the public stage. They have important considerations in mind like long-term working relationships and potential punishment or freezing-out after Ministers and Taoisigh have gone home.

In the Malawi instance, Jan O'Sullivan's closest advisors would have had this part of her Africa trip highlighted on their schedule and in their minds as being the tricky bit. However when the moment came it was up to Jan O'Sullivan alone to decide what to do: half smile and say nothing as advised by some, or speak out angrily as urged by others? 

Jan O'Sullivan chose to raise serious concerns with all three cabinet Ministers she met in Malawi about the treatment of gay people, she said Ireland found it abhorrent but Ireland itself had once criminalised gays and had come on a journey. She did so clearly, politely and publicly on behalf of the Irish people. 

It was only briefly mentioned in the media in Ireland but importantly it was covered in the local press in a country where very few people stood up to the Government, never mind a woman.

President Trump

What President Trump has done in his short time in office is no where near as serious as the repressive regime in Malawi but his bullying of Mexico has crossed a line, his blanket ban of citizens from 7 nations is possibly illegal and his carpeting of media and any dissent to his word in the US is worrying.

We don't want another 'pig-in-the-kitchen' or 'harp-on-the-tarmac' moment with President Trump in March 2017. We don't want Enda Kenny, the happy chappy who shows up with a bowl of shamrock. We want a leader that represents Ireland.

Home politics means this may well be Enda Kenny's final St Patrick's Day reception as Taoiseach at The White House, that just happens to coincide with his biggest US moment in many years of visiting Washington