The tremors from the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America could shake Ireland with a double whammy, a Chicago-based Galway senator has warned.
Senator Billy Lawless described Trump’s victory as “scary”, and has sparked fears of a repatriation of Irish based US multi-national companies, from Ireland back to America.
Trump’s triumph also raises the ugly spectre of Irish undocumented in the US moving in the opposite direction – the billionaire businessman has threatened mass deportation of illegal immigrants.
“Everyone is just shocked. Nobody expected it. They are stunned,” said Senator Lawless speaking from Chicago in the immediate aftermath of the poll.
“It’s scary but that’s the result and we have to deal with it,” added Senator Lawless, a supporter of the defeated Democrat candidate, Hilary Clinton.
The Galway native said he spoke to Minister for Diaspora, Joe McHugh, on Wednesday as Dublin ponders what strategy it will take with the new administration in Washington.
As Vice-President of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, an umbrella organisation that represents 130 immigrant groups, senator Lawless described the rhetoric from the now Republican President Elect as “unbelievable”.
Mr Lawless, An Taoiseach’s nominee to Seanad Éireann, has campaigned for years for immigration reform and has championed the cause of undocumented in the US.
The Chicago-based restaurateur is a friend of President Barack Obama, and some progress was made in the area of immigration rights during his two-terms in Washington. But there are fears Trump could reverse any progress, and clamp down on the undocumented.
Senator Lawless said people were “very scared” of the policy platform put forward by Trump during the race for the White House.
Trump has spoken disparagingly of immigrants, with sweeping racist statements about being rapists and criminals. He also threatened to build a wall between the US and Mexico if elected.
“He is talking about getting rid of eleven million undocumented. That is impossible,” said Senator Lawless.
He added: “He’s talked about building a wall on the Mexican border. He was still talking about building a wall even yesterday. A Republican Congressman was on the radio here yesterday insisting the wall was his priority. It’s scary but that’s the result and we have to deal.
“It’s a new scenario, that’s for sure. Sanity will have to prevail on this. The reality is that America has a demand for immigrant workers. America was built on immigration. That’s what the Irish did – they went over and did the menial jobs and got money and educated themselves and worked their way up. It’s a changed political landscape but you can’t deport all the people he says he will deport.
“There are eleven million undocumented. What level of deportation will there be? Will he start with hardened criminals? Obama, in his eight years, deported two million people. A lot of people don’t know that. How many will Trump deport? I have to meet now with Hispanic immigrant organisations to see where we go from here. But yes, it is a worry for the undocumented here.”
Aside from immigration, Trump’s economic platform could hit the West of Ireland hard, including in Galway where thousands of people are employed in US multinational companies, the engine of the local economy.
Senator Lawless said: “Trump is talking about recalling all American companies from tax havens. That would include Ireland, even though he hasn’t mentioned Ireland specifically. He’s talked about bringing jobs home, and jobs for Americans.
“He’s talking about increased tariffs on imports, even though we’ve worked for over 20 years to open up free trade. He’s talking about getting rid of the J1 visa for Irish students wishing to spend the Summer in the US.
“He’s going to repeal Obamacare (system of public health care), and replace it with his own system. That’s regressive. Will he be more pragmatic than he has been on the campaign stump? He has to be. He can’t do all the things he’s said he will do.”
Galway’s top thirteen companies export goods to the tune of €23 billion annually, and many of them are American.
In a statement, American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland chief executive Mark Redmond said US investment in Ireland amounts to $343bn and directly supports 140,000 jobs here. And he pointed out that Irish companies directly employ roughly the same number, in US.
Mr Redmond added: “The US and the EU are the world’s largest trading partners. The American Chamber of Commerce is committed to ensuring that Ireland remains a key gateway to Europe and the global location of choice for US investment.
“The key attractions of Ireland as an investment destination – our talented workforce, our competitiveness and the certainty of our legislative framework are the reasons why US business investment has been so successful here over many decades”.