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A Trump trip to his Irish golf course could create an unusual diplomatic dilemma

A view of Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Doonbeg in Doonbeg, Ireland. (Griff Witte/Griff Witte/The Washington Post)

President Trump had been expected to visit Ireland next month, part of a tour of Europe that would also include stops in Britain and France. It would be Trump’s first visit to Ireland since becoming president, making up for a planned visit last year that was abruptly canceled.

But a stop in Ireland may be in doubt once again amid a complicated diplomatic dispute centered on the business interests of the Trump family — specifically, a luxury golf course near the village of Doonbeg, County Clare, owned by the U.S. president.

Irish media outlets reported this week that the president was planning to visit the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Doonbeg, formerly known as Doonbeg Golf Club, on June 5 after a state visit to Britain. The president would return to Doonbeg on June 7 and 8, after a stop in France for the anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The Irish Times reported Thursday, however, that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the prime minister, was reluctant to meet Trump at his privately owned golf course. Varadkar was reported to be in favor of meeting at another location, such as Dromoland Castle Hotel, which is approximately 30 miles from Doonbeg.

The newspaper reported that if Varadkar refuses to meet Trump at his Doonbeg resort, the president is considering canceling his visit to Ireland and instead visiting a different golf course in Scotland as an alternative.

The White House has yet to publicly confirm Trump’s trip to Ireland, and it did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nick Miller, a press secretary for Varadkar, declined to offer more information when contacted Friday and said that any announcements about the trip would come from the White House.

Trump had indicated a desire to travel to Ireland and he would be welcome, Miller said, but “as of now we don’t have any particular indication when or whether the president would be visiting” that could be shared.

Evan Butler, director of sales and marketing at Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Doonbeg, said that the resort had “no confirmation on President Trump’s Visit to Ireland as of yet.”

“There is no standoff about the venue for a meeting between President Trump and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar," said a statement from the Irish Embassy in Washington. "There has been some preliminary discussions on venues.

The statement added that Varadkar "would welcome an opportunity to meet President Trump should he decide to visit Ireland while he is in Europe next month.”

Though it is not a formal state visit, the possible trip raises protocol questions about whether the U.S. leader needs to meet with a head of state or government when visiting his private property in another country.

A trip to Doonbeg may also reignite criticism that the president may be using travel to raise publicity for his privately owned properties, some of which are ailing financially.

Trump bought the Doonbeg course, in a rural area on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, in 2014 for $11 million. Since then, he has put about $30 million into the course without taking out any loans. Trump says the cash is all his, an unusually risky strategy that he employed at a number of other golf clubs in the decade before he ran for president.

Trump has never turned a profit at Doonbeg, according to filings with the Irish government for the years 2014-2017.

His most recent U.S. financial disclosure forms, covering the year 2018, show that Doonbeg’s revenue increased slightly, up about 2 percent from $14.2 million to $14.5 million. But those forms do not say whether the Doonbeg club turned a profit in that year.

Trump is now seeking approval from Irish regulators for two separate proposals at the club. One — for a rock sea wall intended to hold back coastal erosion — has been the subject of a years-long fight with environmentalists who think the wall would destroy a rare set of dunes nearby.

It is now pending before the Irish national planning review board: The board’s website says a decision was expected by October 2018, but it has not come yet. The other proposal is for an expansion of the club’s hotel, to include more than 50 new rental cottages and a large ballroom for events. It is awaiting approval from local officials.

Twice before, Trump has used foreign trips to visit his own private businesses — but in both cases, he treated those visits as personal trips and didn’t use either property for official meetings with foreign leaders. In November 2017, while stopping in Hawaii on his way to Asia, Trump made a very brief visit to the Trump-branded hotel on Waikiki Beach. Trump stayed just minutes at the hotel, according to media pool reports.

“The president stopped by the Trump hotel on his way to the airport. It has been a tremendously successful project and he wanted to say hello and thank you to the employees for all their hard work,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said then.

Last year, Trump also visited his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, on a weekend between an official visit to Britain and a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. That visit was treated as a personal retreat for Trump, not a working presidential trip. Aides said Trump planned to study his briefing books before meeting Putin, but the president also played golf.

Trump had already visited London during that trip, where he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

If a planned trip to Ireland were to be canceled, it would be the second time Trump scratched a stop there. A previous trip, scheduled for November, was canceled the month before. “The U.S. side has cited scheduling reasons,” Laura Durkan, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, told The Washington Post at the time.

Trump is a controversial figure in Ireland, and there had been speculation that he canceled last year’s trip because of planned protests. In an interview in March when he visited Washington, Varadkar said that he did not think Trump canceled because of the risk of protest and that there were some areas where the Trump administration had been helpful to Ireland.

“He does own a business in Ireland, too, which we shouldn’t forget,” the Irish leader said.