He loves us and he’s investing millions here, but there are some aspects of Ireland that Donald Trump doesn’t enjoy. He tells Will Hanafin why Sean O’Rourke is an a**hole, and critics of Michael Noonan are losers.
There’s really only one way to break the ice when you finally secure a phone interview with Donald Trump. Tell him something about Barack Obama that makes The Donald feel that he’s got one up on the US President.
In fairness, that’s not hard. Trump has secured the amazing Doonbeg golf resort on the west Clare coastline for a song and named it after himself, while Obama’s enduring Irish monument is the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall off the M7, with Supermac’s as the major feature. But while getting one up on Obama is important to him, Trump really wants to talk about Doonbeg.
That’s the beautiful links golf course and hotel complex that he bought in February, now renamed Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Ireland. Along with property development and reality TV, golf is a passion of his.
“I am going to be back in Doonbeg soon,” he says. “I loved playing the course there. People don’t know it, but I am a successful golfer with a handicap of three, and I’ve had a lot of good luck at golf.”
While he has recently fallen out with Scottish politicians over plans to locate offshore wind farms near his treasured Aberdeen golf course, our guys are definitely in Trump’s good books. He arrived into Shannon Airport in May with his family, amid a blaze of publicity, landing in his private Boeing 757, which was emblazoned with his Trump logo. The airport authorities also rolled out a red carpet and laid on red-clad harpists and singers to greet him on the runway.
Controversially, our Finance Minister Michael Noonan was also part of the welcoming party.
Donald Trump rejects criticism of the fact that the Minister for Finance met him at Shannon. “Your Finance Minister Michael Noonan is a terrific man,” he says. “He’s not meeting me because I am a wonderful human being. He’s meeting me because I am putting a lot of money into Ireland. I actually commented that is was terrific that he was meeting me.”
The media criticism of the Michael Noonan meeting rankles with Trump. “A couple of losers didn’t like that he did that. I said hello to somebody! I am investing a tremendous amount of money in Ireland. I don’t know him. I have respect for his reputation. [Noonan’s presence] made me feel very good about Ireland. I am spending in the region of $100m,” he says.
There was one other negative experience during his May visit that Trump’s finding hard to let go of. That was his interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1.
“Sean O’Rourke!” Trump exclaims. “That a**hole from the radio show!”
“This is what happened. We set up this interview. I had never heard of Sean O’Rourke. Everything was fine. He met me a day before and he was a nice guy! I was the greatest guy ever to come to Ireland, O’Rourke said!
“Then I read the newspapers [the morning of the interview] and some dope wrote some nasty stuff,” Trump continues. “He said I was doing Sean O’Rourke and said Sean would softball me and give me easy questions – a puff piece. I knew immediately it wouldn’t be, because he then had to show it was legitimate.
“I knew it would be a bad interview. He was respectful before.”
The article he refers to is more than likely The Irish Times sports reporter Malachy Clerkin’s piece in the sports page on the morning of the O’Rourke interview. The headline thundered that: “Doonbeg’s good news hardly worth all the bowing and scraping.”
This is a typical passage from the Malachy Clerkin article: “How depressing. The preposterous welcome conferred upon a man who has done nothing more than help himself to a cut-price property deal was the worst kind of forelock-tugging.”
But the passage that set off alarm bells in Donald Trump’s head was probably the following: “Even the usually reliably unimpressed Sean O’Rourke trumpeted on his radio show that this morning’s edition would come from Doonbeg, complete with an interview with The Donald. He actually called him that, The Donald. When even Sean O’Rourke can’t keep a lid on the giddiness, it’s time to wonder what we’re at.”
So here’s Donald Trump’s take on why the O’Rourke interview went badly wrong that fateful May morning:
“He asked about my hair. He took off my hair! This is my hair! It was a nasty interview. He was seduced by the moron who wrote the article. I chose Ireland and am spending a lot of money here – a $100 million course.”
Did he confront Sean O’Rourke after the interview and storm out, as some press reports have suggested? “I was not angry! I understood,” says Trump. “It was not a nice interview. I told him ‘You’re an a**hole!’ Essentially that! It was a lot different than I thought and the interview went on longer and told him I gotta go!”
“[Trump] had absolutely no problem about the question on his hair,” O’Rourke said. “He did not say anything to me about the hair question. There was no big scene after the programme.”
O’Rourke then went on to tell Mirror reporter Adelina Campos: “It was clear that he wasn’t happy with the general challenging tone of the interview, and that was about the size of it.” He added: “I challenged him about how many jobs he is going to create, about whether he is going to keep his promises, about the way he runs his business . . . That is what he took issue with.”
Whatever about the ins and outs of his spat with the RTE broadcaster, Donald Trump still has big ambitions for Doonbeg. “It’s doing great. It’s 500 acres and it’s fantastic. When I came over, the Government was terrific. I am investing a lot of money right now. I would love to have the Irish Open there.”
Trump also is a big fan of our best young golfer.
“Rory McIlroy stayed with me at Aberdeen. He is fantastic and has tremendous heart and tremendous talent. Rory’s one of these people who seems to have figured it out. He’s my favourite golfer at the moment, on a pace to tie and beat Jack Nicklaus. He’s young, strong and knows what’s what.”
Trump is very eager to talk about any Irish connections. His television partner in crime has long been Mark Burnett, the influential British-born producer, who produces The Apprentice. Burnett is married to Derry-born actress Roma Downey. Donald is a big fan.
“Roma Downey is the wife of Mark Burnett and she has this tremendous warmth of person. She is fantastic. She is a real life angel like that angel she played in the Touched by an Angel TV show. She is a friend of mine.”
Trump may also be on the side of the angels when it comes to buying Doonbeg. It was rumoured at the time of the sale that Doonbeg cost him €15m. But a recent report filed by the resort’s receivers showed that the proceeds of the sale amounted to just over €8.7m. That was quite a bargain, as the resort was initially developed in 2002 at a cost of €28m. For that money Donald Trump got the five-star hotel, seven unsold golf lodges and the Greg Norman golf course.
Donald Trump is very well known for his abrasive can-do attitude but there are a number of pesky details about the Doonbeg site that may still cause him some difficulties. Chief among these headaches is Vertigo angustior, better known as the narrow-mouthed whorl snail. There are various conservation areas on the Doonbeg site and also millions of the protected snail scattered around the course. Trump is very eager to expand and remodel the course and work around some of the conservation areas that curtailed the original developer’s plans.
“It has been battered by the storm,” says Trump. “The developers had great vision but they couldn’t get certain approvals. There was things like the snail. The snail is doing fine. It turns out the snail is not only on that site, it’s all over the world. I am getting on very well with the environmental people. I get on very well with them as I’m very much an environmentalist.”
There are a lot of works being carried out in Doonbeg right now.
“We were forced to build right now for lots of reasons. We needed a great links architect so the first thing I did was to hire Martin Hawtree and he blew up the course. We’re still allowing people to play while we’re building. The tees are being lengthened and the greens are being enlarged. We’ve also got to get the coastal protection because we don’t want to build and then erode. It’s not easy.”
Donald Trump revealed that he’s keen to upgrade the hotel side of the resort, and is getting supportive phone calls from our own flamboyant business people. “We are applying for a ballroom. Mr. O’Leary from Ryanair, who I have great respect for, called me. Michael told me: ‘No one else will use any other ballroom.’ We spoke and he told me that I have bought one of his favourite places in Doonbeg.”
He aims to capitalise on the weddings and functions markets with the much-cherished ballroom plan. “We are going to build a ballroom and there will be nothing like it,” he says. “We are going to get weddings and all sorts. It is under design and will be built in phase two.”
Trump also claims that since he bought Doonbeg, he has been inundated with other Irish business proposals. “I get proposals all the time from Ireland. Not just Mr. O’Leary telling me to build a ballroom there,” he says.
The American property tycoon knows that he got a bargain in Doonbeg and has sympathy for the original developers, Kiawah Partners. They’re an American property developer specialising in high-end golf course developments.
“I’ve said it a number of times. The original developers had a great concept but they couldn’t get the permits for the golf course. Then the market crashed while they were opening, which was unfortunate. The hotel is magnificent.”
He had his sights set on the resort for quite a while. “I visited Doonbeg long before I bought it and I would tell my staff all about that place when I came back,” says Trump. “It was terrific.”
His ambitious plans centre on what he calls the Trump Triangle. This will link the Doonbeg site with his two Scottish golf courses, in Aberdeen and the recently purchased famous Turnberry course. “I call it the Trump Triangle,” he explains, “and the plans for it have well commenced. There is a Sikorsky 76 in Turnberry already and you will be in Doonbeg in an hour.”
Donald Trump has big Scottish connections, as his mother Mary MacLeod was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. She emigrated to the US at the age of 20, with Gaelic as her first language. Mary met Fred Trump there and married in 1935. Their son Donald duly invested in a big golf resort at the Menie resort in Aberdeenshire, but has since become involved in a long-running dispute about an offshore wind farm near the site.
The Aberdeenshire wind-farm plan was approved this February, and Trump issued this statement: “We will appeal this decision, and in the meantime we will be focusing all of our investment and energy towards our new acquisition on the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland.”
Trump may be fleeing Scottish wind turbines to settle on our Atlantic coast, but he now has a problem. There is a new application for a wind farm 4km from his newly acquired Doonbeg resort. Clare Coastal Windpower have lodged plans with Clare County Council for a nine-turbine wind farm. The turbines are planned to be 125m high. Liberty Hall is 59m tall. When Trump visited in May he said that Clare County Council had “killed” plans for the wind farm, because they rejected Clare Windpower’s previous plans for a bigger one.
I ask Trump what he thinks about the newly lodged wind-farm application near Doonbeg.
“I’m am worried about wind farms in Doonbeg,” he says. “These windmills are a catastrophe and are dangerous to people and birds. Their energy is bad and any energy that needs a subsidy from the Government doesn’t work. I am going to fight that. Otherwise I would stop my investment. I can’t be looking at a turbine. And underneath the turbines are hundreds of dead birds! It is a disgusting technology.”
He told me that Clare should not go down the same road. “Doonbeg rejected it one time because it would kill tourism. Scotland sees that it is overrun with them and taxes have raised substantially.”
Last month, the Doonbeg Golf Resort formally lodged a lengthy objection against Clare Coastal Windpower’s plans.
Trump engaged in a war of words with outgoing Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, including an open letter earlier this year. ‘Taxing your citizens to subsidise wind projects owned by foreign energy companies will destroy your country and its economy,” Trump wrote. “Jobs will not be created in Scotland because these ugly monstrosities known as turbines are manufactured in other countries such as China. These countries are laughing at you.”
I asked him if his relations with UK politicians are any better now. “David Cameron has written to me, because I was asking him why he would be so stupid to give massive money to build windmills and destroy tourism,” he says.
“Politically speaking, I have not been treated properly by Alex Salmond. Our course in Scotland will have been the greatest course ever built. In Scotland my developments have been welcomed by the people – with something like 93pc approval.”
Because of all this conflict in Scotland, he is keen to concentrate on Ireland, and wants to give us a message of hope. “I love Ireland,” Trump insists. “I love Irish people. They have a special way about them. I’ll give you an example. In the early 90s I got into serious trouble but I never went into bankruptcy. I toughed it out and never went and came back much stronger. First of all the recovery in Ireland has already started. You are coming back strong. I made a deal at the right time and it helped Ireland. It has given you disproportionate publicity. If Wilbur Smith buys the golf course – no one cares,” he said.
There were rumours that Trump was contemplating a US Presidential run in 2012, but eventually he supported Mitt Romney. Would he run against Hillary in 2016? “It looks like she is going to be the one. A lot of people want me to run, but I love what I am doing now. But [the USA] can’t be run so incompetently. Our leadership let us down so badly. We let other countries eat our lunch. I won’t make a decision until after January. Many people want me to run and I do great in polls. They wanted me to run in 2012. I didn’t do it. I liked Romney and I backed him. He couldn’t bring it over the line.”
While he mulls over a US Presidential bid, Trump uses Twitter as his main sounding board for getting his opinions out to his millions of followers. Often his social media pronouncements are ill thought-out. “Twitter gives me a voice – a tremendous voice with 5m followers,” he explains. It’s like owning The New York Times without the losses! Guys like me used to have to shout at street corners to speak up. Now I can do it on Twitter. It has an impact, and it’s not just for teeny boppers. I don’t issue press releases anymore. I just put it on Twitter, either doing it myself or I dictate it out.”
He frequently shocks and offends deeply with his tweets, such as this one from August. ‘The US cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” he tweeted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great – but must suffer the consequences!”
Surely he must be remorseful about that this? Particularly as he globetrots so much, looking after his myriad business interests. “Ebola? No regrets! I thought docs should go to [the Ebola-infected US citizen]. You never regret, you learn,” he says. “It’s terrific he recovered, but the doctors should have come to him. It’s highly infectious.”
“I am very much a borders person and it’s in free-fall in the States. I was in India recently and it’s so professional. They only check people in if they’re properly vetted”.
Trump is a ferocious critic of Obama’s Presidency and is very angry about American foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle East. “Look at Isis. Iraq cost the US $2 trillion. What did we get? It got taken over by the worst guy down the block. I warned that we would be giving the oil to Iran. Now we are giving it to Isis. We are led by stupid people!
They said, ‘Keep the oil, because you’re a sovereign country.’ But I say – to the victors the spoils. Iraq is a disaster. It’s the Harvard of terrorists. I warned that Iraq would explode the day we left. I knew what was going to happen and said I would have been proven right. Saddam, I didn’t like him, but he would kill terrorists,” he adds.
“Afghanistan was a better option to invade but I am not a fan of George W Bush. He made terrible decisions and gave us Obama. Because of Bush, nobody – even if Abe came back from the dead – could have won. Bush gave us Obama!”
So watch out Ireland. If he decides against a Presidential bid, Donald Trump looks set to be a fixture on the Irish landscape for some time to come. And if he’s got anything to do with it, wind farms won’t be. Or possibly Sean O’Rourke.
For more information on Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, see TrumpIrelandhotel.com