By ELISABETH BUMILLER
The New York Times
June 26, 2004
ENNIS, Ireland, June 25 President Bush arrived Friday night at the heavily guarded Dromoland Castle as the authorities braced for large demonstrations across Ireland against the war in Iraq.
The president was greeted on the eve of a European Union summit meeting by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who posed for pictures with Mr. Bush, then took a half-hour walk with him in the evening rain. But over all, Mr. Bush's arrival in Ireland was in striking contrast to the jubilant welcomes accorded here to Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy.
Mr. Bush's reception was frosty, if not outright hostile, as widespread opposition to the Iraq war and revulsion at the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have turned a large portion of Irish popular opinion against him.
In Dublin on Friday, the police estimated that 10,000 protesters marched through the heart of the city, among them the deputy lord mayor, Andrew Montague. Other protesters were kept outside the security cordon and largely out of sight of Mr. Bush at Shannon Airport, where Air Force One landed. In what the authorities called the biggest security operation ever mounted in Ireland, more than 6,000 police and soldiers manned checkpoints in the hinterlands around Shannon and Dromoland Castle.
Smaller protests were under way in the cities of Galway, Sligo, Waterford and Tralee in County Kerry.
"Fury and fear as town is turned into a fortress," the headline in the Irish Examiner said. The newspaper quoted the mayor of Shannon as saying that the town's residents were being made into a potential target for a terrorist attack.
In Dublin, protesters said they were anti-Bush, not anti-American.
"I love America," said Tim Goulding, 59, an artist from County Wicklow. Mr. Goulding said he was marching in the city's streets because "there is no connection between 9/11 and Iraq."
"It was a completely illogical hitting out," he said. "It seemed like an act of revenge."
Mary O'Rourke, the leader of the Irish Senate, who refused to attend a recent dinner in celebration of Mr. Bush's impending visit at the home of the American ambassador, James C. Kenny, echoed Mr. Goulding.
"Nobody denies we have an affinity with the United States, but that is a different matter from having an affinity with the president," Ms. O'Rourke said in the Irish Parliament this week.
But the centrist Irish Independent newspaper said in an editorial on Friday that while Mr. Bush's trip will be the equivalent for the protesters of "a visit from the Devil Incarnate," the demonstrations "seem a bit out of touch." The newspaper added that with the planned transfer of sovereignty from the United States to the Iraqis on June 30, "we are now tantalizingly close to the big step that the Americans have been promising all along."
Police were keeping protesters at least a mile from Dromoland Castle, a 16th-century Renaissance fortress turned luxury hotel and golf resort, in the small town of Newmarket-on-Fergus.
Mr. Bush is to remain in Ireland only 18 hours before heading to Ankara, Turkey, and then to Istanbul for a NATO summit meeting, where the United States is seeking help from the trans-Atlantic alliance to train Iraqi security forces. Security was reported to be extremely tight after bombs in both cities killed four people on Thursday.
A Turkish television station, CNN Turk, reported that the authorities had also discovered a vehicle full of explosives in a parking lot at Istanbul International Airport on Friday, according to news agencies.
The European Union-United States summit meeting that begins on Saturday is to focus on the political relationship between the United States and Europe, which continues to be strained by the war in Iraq. But both sides are expected to issue joint statements on the Middle East, counterterrorism and unconventional weapons, among other issues.
"There is no point in us continuing to focus on the passionate argument about intervention," Chris Patten, the European Union's commissioner for external affairs, told White House reporters staying in Ennis, a town about six miles from Dromoland Castle. "We have a shared interest in trying to ensure that the new Iraq is able to be open, pluralistic, democratic and, pray God, stable as well, despite the present exceptionally difficult security situation."
But Mr. Patten was indirectly critical of the United States over disclosures of aggressive prisoner interrogation options set out by Bush administration lawyers, including an August 2002 Justice Department memo that appeared to offer a permissive definition of torture.
"The notion that what we saw in Abu Ghraib is somehow typical of the United States is a terrible calumny," he said. "Where I think there is a legitimate worry in Europe is whether or not the administration and others are as committed to the application of the Geneva Conventions as we are. I think once you start hair-splitting about the Geneva Conventions you risk getting into a good deal of difficulty."
Before leaving Washington, Mr. Bush sat for a contentious interview with RTE, Irish state television, which was broadcast here on Thursday night. The reporter, Carole Coleman, began by asking Mr. Bush how it felt to come to Ireland knowing that the majority of the Irish did not want him in their country.
"I hope the Irish people understand the great values of our country, and if they think a few soldiers represent the entire of America, they don't really understand America," Mr. Bush said, referring to the prison scandal. "If they say this is what America represents, they don't understand our country."
Often, when Mr. Bush paused, Ms. Coleman started another question, and Mr. Bush held up his hands and said "let me finish" numerous times.
When Mr. Reagan came to Ireland, his ancestral village gave him an emotional homecoming and named a pub after him. Mr. Clinton was celebrated in 1995 by a crowd of 100,000 that brought central Dublin to a standstill.
Brian Lavery contributed reporting from Dublin for this article.