Maybe it’s my old diplomatic training, but I was delighted to see the red carpet welcome we put on at Shannon Airport for billionaire Donald Trump as he arrived to announce further investment in his Doonbeg golf course. It was a literally a red carpet welcome, and as he came off his trademark personal jet and walked along it, he was greeted warmly by our Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, accompanied by a violinist in full flow, a harpist and a traditional Irish singer!
Fantastic. You won’t get that in many other small European countries, unless you’re the Queen of England. But we know how to do a welcome here. And you could see on the TV pictures that the notoriously prickly Trump was pleasantly taking it in. His catchphrase might be ‘you’re fired!’ from his time as the boss in the US version of TV’s "Apprentice," but on this occasion, the bequiffed one was looking at the friendly Gaels and more likely thinking ‘you’re hired.’ The local joke was that his hair had arrived a half hour before him, and got an equally warm welcome.
Inside the Shannon terminal, it was the serious business of speeches, and again not a foot put wrong, with Noonan and the Mayor of Clare beaming and Trump promising he would create hundreds of jobs, through his €54 million ($74m) redevelopment. ‘This is something that Ireland is going to be extremely proud of,’ said one of world’s most famous investors. The whole thing was a masterclass in what we do best, a combination of salesmanship and cultural chutzpah, or ‘the IDA meets Blarney Castle.’ And it works – just look at the amount of US-created jobs in Ireland.
So imagine my annoyance when I saw that, far from being impressed by this welcome, many naysayers thought it was ‘over the top’ and ‘demeaning’ and that our very busy Minister of Finance shouldn’t have been there. (Wake up guys, he’s a Limerick TD and there’s an election on.) This is a silly begrudging attitude which in much of the negative commentary was immediately undermined by the begrudgers concession that Donald Trump is in fact a very wealthy man whose investments have transformed New York and Las Vegas. Exactly. And if we got even a slice of this, wouldn't it be worth rolling out the red carpet?
As it is, Trump has committed to a major investment at the Doonbeg course, despite the serious environmental hurdles and the weather! The begrudgery also misses the point: Trump is also a major ‘showman’ celebrity and the reception was in that spirit. It’s a thing that we, the Irish, are good at. Trump arrived in his own personalized Boeing 757 jet with a big T logo on the tail fin, and arrived like a king, and we responded to that. The musicians on the tarmac were part of it all, and just a bit of craic. Even Noonan was treating it as a bit tongue in cheek, although with serious intent.
For the Shannon reception also showed Trump a sense of respect. It also showed that it is worth putting on a strong and welcoming show if it means boosting our FDI especially from the US, where so much of our investment comes from. Such hospitality results in Irish jobs, plain and simple, something that the begrudgers won’t be providing. It was an approach that worked for us in the 1960's when, in the midst of high emigration, this kind of inward investment saved our bacon. Interestingly, much of it began at Shannon, with the creation of an enterprise zone.
I speak from experience on this, as I recently had to bring some powerful American business people around Dublin, getting them political and cultural briefings, which they really appreciated it. We went out of our way for them, and they saw that. Most of them are CEOs who are close to near retirement, but they are still investing heavily, including in Ireland.
The begrudgers also complain that the likes of Trump are getting investments like Doonbeg for a knock down price. But, hey, welcome to the real world. Would they prefer that no one bought it? In fact, the can-do colorful Trump is the ideal figure for a challenging venture like Doonbeg, a golf course situated on the wild Atlantic, which unbelievably, is challenged by the environmental protection needs of an Ice age snail. But the naysayers should be happy about one thing. Trump is also opposed to any windfarms spoiling his golfer’s view.
And if they thought he could lead a national campaign on that one, they might even come and join us in a lucrative Cead Mile Failte!.
* Eamon Delaney is a former diplomat and now a columnist and author.