Trump plans another wall in Ireland... to keep out the sea

The president-elect who doesn't believe in climate change now says rising sea levels threaten his golf resort.

Doonbeg Golf Club, Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland which US president-elect Donald Trump bought in 2014 and re-named the Trump International Golf Links Ireland and which he now wants to protect from rising sea levels by building a high wall. Shutterstock / REX
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DUBLIN // Long before Donald Trump promised to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, he planned to build one in the village of Doonbeg on the western coast of Ireland, in a bid to keep out the sea.

Perched on the Atlantic Ocean in county Clare, Doonbeg is famous for the gentle, grass-covered dunes that line its curving beaches. The village is a magnet for tourists — a factor that undoubtedly inspired Mr Trump to purchase a 12-year-old golf resort in 2014.

Paying roughly US$9.2 million (Dh33.8m) for The Lodge at Doonbeg, the billionaire property developer renamed the resort Trump International Golf Links & Hotel. It swiftly became one of the crown jewels of his empire.

Even in the midst of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign this May, his son Eric came to Doonbeg to inaugurate a redesigned golf course. His father knew every inch of the course, Eric Trump said.

“I was on the phone to him earlier for 20 minutes, and he was asking: ‘How is [hole] four looking? How is six? How is 18?’ He was very envious of me being here.”

Mr Trump repeatedly denied the existence of climate change and its predicted consequence, a rise in sea levels, during his campaign. However, his company has explicitly cited concerns about such a rise in its application to build a wall in Doonbeg to protect the golf course from being swamped.

The application also cited the threat from flash storms, after winter storms in late 2014 and early 2015 shut the course temporarily.

But the resort’s plans to erect a $10.6m, 2.8-kilometre wall along its coastal boundary has run into trouble. Built of mortared rocks, the wall is to be 6.5 metres high and wide enough for a walkway on top and will flatten the dunes just behind the beach.

Critics say the wall is likely to be an eyesore and may wreck the region’s ecology. But with no wall, Mr Trump’s representatives have warned he will consider shutting down the resort, jeopardising the jobs of nearly 300 residents.

The Clare county council is reviewing the wall application, and has asked for further information to be submitted by December 31.

The resort had initially tried to build the wall without authorisation, said Tony Lowes, director of the non-profit Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE).

“In 2014, lorries full of limestone just began showing up in the resort’s car park. Only then was it made clear to the Trumps that they had to get permission to build this wall,” he said.

Mr Lowes and FIE have been at the forefront of protests against Mr Trump’s wall, which has also drawn opposition from groups such as the Irish Surfing Association.

A more modest wall design would be fine, Mr Lowes said. “But a construction like the one that has been planned would be so tall that it would interfere with the movement of the sand and be visually intrusive.”

Mr Lowes is also concerned that the dunes along the coast on Mr Trump’s property would be levelled, destroying the habitat of a protected species of snail called the Vertigo angustior. “When Mr Trump purchased the property, he was given documents in which the National Parks and Wildlife Service made it very clear that the snail must be protected and that the dunes couldn’t be interfered with.”

But Mr Lowes admitted that his view was not shared by “99.9 per cent of the community in Doonbeg”.

The golf resort is the primary employer in the area, and it supports a host of local businesses as well.

“The government doesn’t create jobs here anymore,” said John O’Dea, who runs a construction company and chairs Doonbeg Community Development, a body of businesses in the village. “And if the sea breaches the dunes, it’ll flood an awful lot of land, which will affect a lot of small farmers in the area.”

Mr O’Dea recalled the storms two years ago, which washed away a line of dunes. “Between 25 and 40 metres of dunes disappeared in one night,” he said. “They talk about this snail now, but I don’t remember anyone worrying too much about snails back then.”

Mr Trump’s election to the US presidency will “bring more and more business to the area, and that’s more than welcome”, Mr O’Dea said. “Lots of villages on the west coast here would give anything to get that kind of business.”

Once the council makes its decision, either party can appeal to the planning appeals board, which will rule based on a report by one of its inspectors.

But Mr Lowes is confident the council will rule in the favour of the environment, and at least force Mr Trump to reduce the size of his wall.

“The dunes are so magnificent. You can go into them and get utterly lost. It’s a cup of paradise,” he said. “It really is worth trying to keep this alive.”