What Joe Biden's Presidency Means for the Emerald Isle
At the moment, it is unclear if Ireland's taoiseach (tei-shuh, prime minister), Michael Martin, will be attending the White House during March 17 for the annual St. Patrick's Day visit. The idea that Mr. Martin would go to Washington, D.C. in a pandemic was not well received within the Republic of Ireland. Journal.ie, a popular online media outlet in Ireland, asked whether the taoiseach should visit Washington for St. Patrick's Day. Out of over 30,000 responses, 72.9% said no.
The reason the trip's proponents give in favor of the trip is the unique access to the president of the United States. Given the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have to be an extraordinary encounter. Such a conversation between Michael Martin and Joe Biden can be justified only by the telling of harsh truths. Considering that Martin called Biden "a true friend of Ireland," he is obviously not heading to D.C. to give the new president a piece of his mind. This is in stark contrast to when then-taoiseach Enda Kenny came to D.C. in 2017 to tell President Donald Trump why his views are racist and dangerous.
Trump's affinity for Ireland is much quieter than Biden's, but he is no stranger to Irish politics. He once attended a Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York, where he shook hands with former long-serving party leader Gerry Adams. This is more significant respect than Martin ever gave Adams. After the February 2020 general election in Ireland, Martin's party, Fianna Fáil, refused to talk to Sinn Féin about governing together, despite Sinn Féin winning the popular vote.
On issues of personal morality, there now exists a wide divide between Irish opinion and that of U.S. Republicanism. Irish voters overwhelmingly voted to redefine marriage, 62%-37%, in the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum. Compare this to 51% of Republicans opposed, according to a survey released in 2018 by the Public Religion Research. On abortion Ireland pretty much made it legal in 2018 with 66% in favor. On the contrary, 62% of U.S. conservative Republicans want it abolished in all or most cases. Martin should be made aware that he needs to try to understand why Republicans hold the views they do, especially when the next Irish-American president could be Mike Pence, Republican. Martin's likely coalition successor, Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, previously labeled Fianna Fáil members "backwoods men" for holding socially conservative views. Imagine what he thinks of more socially conservative Republican Party members.
A most memorable visit to the White House in recent years was when Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited Donald Trump. Kenny got a lot of attention in liberal media. His words — "it's fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and his legacy. He too of course was an immigrant" — were interpreted as criticism of Trump's immigration policies.
The percentage of Ireland's immigrant population reached a high of 17% in Census 2016. Trump could have told Kenny that there is a difference between sending and receiving people. Ireland now has foreign gangs; Gardaí (Irish police) in one example arrested six people and seized €135,000 in cash during a series of raids across two counties targeting a Vietnamese crime gang. Ireland's political elite need to stop viewing immigration through rose-tinted glasses. Their own citizens have not, with a report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 2018 saying 58% of those surveyed showed support for immigrants of the same ethnic group as the majority population in Ireland, in contrast with 41% support of Muslim and 25% support of Roma migrants. This set of statistics suggests that Irish political leaders should speak with more humility, instead of lecturing any American president about the state of his own house.
Ireland's 12.5% corporate tax rate has long been recognized as a pillar of its economy. Joe Biden intends to increase the US rate from 21 to 28%, which is very uncompetitive. Trump would have been wise to articulate an intention to lower the rate further and cease taxing overseas income entirely. As long as the Irish government thinks its corporate tax take is secure there will be complacency in dealing with Ireland's wretched rentier capitalism. Fifty-four percent of 18- to 34-year-olds in Ireland live with their parents. America reducing its corporate tax rate to relative parity would force a battle on the cost of living, in order to attract foreign workers, to the benefit of young Irish citizens.
President Trump should have made it clear that Irish priorities in America are not likely to have the same amount of official interest in the future. While the U.S. Census, in 2010, showed that 34.7M Americans claimed Irish ancestry, that figure was 40.2M in 1980. Fewer Irish-Americans means reduced interest in Irish affairs. Ireland will be competing with Latin America for attention, with 21.1% of the U.S. population forecasted to be Hispanic by 2030. Irish affairs risk falling lower down the U.S. political agenda. There will be fewer Bidens and more Garcias, Rodriguezes, and Martinezes.
There is need for a significant conversation to be had, but it is not going to happen on March 17. Donald Trump could have shaken Ireland's political class out of complacency. Joe Biden and Michael Martin will exchange another bowl of shamrock. The words will be pleasant, but they are not what Ireland needs to hear.
Michael Martin needs to be knocked off his political high horse when it comes to talking to Sinn Féin. He needs a warning not to become smug toward American conservatives and a lesson that Ireland will have to learn that immigration comes with problems, too; that the United States cannot be expected to maintain a high corporate tax rate forever; and that the Irish-American lobby in America is going to shrink significantly.
As much as Irish citizens might dislike Donald Trump, Trump is not a man to back down. With the same old boring encounter likely, Michael Martin should stay home this St. Patrick's Day.
Maybe next next year can be in Mexico City. Mexico needs a visit from the taoiseach, too.
Image via Pxhere.