US President Donald Trump drew a parallel with his planned wall between the United States and Mexico as he expressed confidence that the Brexit logjam over the Irish border would work out “very well”.
Mr Trump made the comments to Irish premier Leo Varadkar on his first official visit to Ireland since becoming president.
At the start of a bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach in Shannon Airport in Co Clare, Mr Trump said Brexit could be “very, very good for Ireland”.
“I think that will all work out, it will all work out very well and also for you, with your wall, your border,” he said.
“I mean we have a border situation in the United States. And you have one over here but I hear it’s going to work out very well. I think it’s both going to work out well, it’s going to work out very well here.”
Mr Varadkar told Mr Trump that Ireland wanted to avoid any wall or border with Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
The president agreed that the current free-flowing Irish border should be preserved.
“The way it works now is good and I think you want to try to keep it that way and I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit is your border,” he said.
“And I’m sure it’s going to work out well. I know they are focused very heavily on it.”
Mr Trump rejected the suggestion Brexit would be bad for Ireland.
“I think it will be good, the big thing is going to be your border but hopefully that is going to work out and I think it will work out,” he said.
“There are a lot of good minds thinking about how to do it and it’s going to be just fine and I think ultimately it could even be very, very good for Ireland, but the border will work out.”
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Varadkar said the president had told him he believed it was possible to keep the Irish border open.
“We didn’t go into any particular detail as to how he thinks it can be done but he understands that that has to be a shared objective – that if the UK is going to leave with a deal, that deal must involve legally-operable guarantees that we won’t see the emergence of a hard border between north and south,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said Mr Trump “didn’t elaborate on why he thinks Brexit would be good for Ireland”.
Asked if was concerned that Mr Trump appeared to compare the Irish border with the US/Mexico border, the Taoiseach said: “We very much discussed the different nature of the border and I explained that 20 or 30 years ago we did have a hard border between north and south, particularly when the Troubles were happening and there were customs posts and so on, and that everyone in Ireland – north and south, unionist and nationalist – want to avoid a return to a hard border, but that Brexit is a threat in that regard and an unintended consequence that we can’t allow.”
Around a hundred people turned out to protest at the entrance to Shannon Airport as Air Force One touched down just before 5pm.
The group were protesting against the president’s policies on climate change and the use of Shannon Airport by the American military.
A number of supporters of the president also gathered at the entrance.
Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will spend two nights at the president’s Doonbeg hotel and golf resort in Co Clare. He will use the luxury facility as a base to travel to France on Thursday for D-Day commemorations.
His arrival in Ireland comes amid a massive security operation in west Co Clare.
A ring of steel has been erected around the five-star Doonbeg resort.
Around 3km of barriers and 3km of 6ft-high fencing have been put in place for the visit.
And 1,500 gardai have been drafted in throughout the area for three days.