Latest: Varadkar releases correspondence in relation to wind farm controversy

Latest: Varadkar releases correspondence in relation to wind farm controversy
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar talks to the media in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York City, the latest stop on his visit to the US. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Update 8.55pm: The Taoiseach's department has released the email Leo Varadkar sent to Fáilte Ireland boss Shaun Quinn in relation to a planning dispute linked to President Donald Trump's golf course in Ireland.

It says Donald Trump is concerned about plans to build a very large wind farm near Doonbeg.

In the email, the Taoiseach says he doesn't want to get into the "nitty gritty" of it, but asked if the planning permission could be looked at.

It reads:

"Hi Shaun.

"I took a call from Donald Trump last Friday. He is concerned about plans to build very large wind farms near Doonbeg.

"I don't want to get into the nitty gritty of it but I did commit to asking Failte to review the planning applications or development plan for Clare as appropriate with a view to making observations if the agency shared his concerns about the impact on landscapes and tourism.

"I would appreciate it if you could do so.

"Leo."

Update 8.31pm: The Taoiseach says he never contacted Clare County Council about a proposed wind farm next to Donald Trump's hotel in Doonbeg.

Leo Varadkar says he misspoke yesterday when he made his comments on Capitol Hill, and it was actually Fáilte Ireland he contacted after Donald Trump expressed concerns about the proposed wind farm.

The Taoiseach has also denied it was a gaffe on his part.

"This is politics, I do have political opponents and there are people who will take any remark I make about anything and try to make a controversy out of it, and what I can say is I acted absolutely appropriately," he said.

Asked whether he recounted the story at the event on Capitol Hill because he was starstruck by the President, Mr Varadkar said: "No, I wasn't starstruck. It was something that he raised and I didn't have a clear recollection of it.

"I just kind of told a story in a humorous manner as I remembered it and, as it turned out, I remembered it incorrectly and I'm happy to clarify that."

Mr Varadkar said: "I'm happy to clarify that I was telling a humorous anecdote about something that happened four years ago.

"The humorous part and the joke was, of course, that the President was giving me credit and praise for something that I didn't actually do.

"I didn't have a clear recollection of it at the time and I have gone back now and checked with my staff and checked the records.

"I didn't contact Clare County Council either verbally or in writing. I did, however, contact Fáilte (Ireland), I did that by email to the CEO of Fáilte.

"Fáilte, as you know, is Ireland's tourism agency, it has a statutory remit to look at planning applications and to see if they could have a negative impact on tourism.

"They were aware of the development already and did make observations to the council. So, all entirely within procedure and all entirely above board. I'm happy to clarify that."

He added: "I did what any tourism minister would do."

Update 6.30pm: The Health Minister has said that many politicians make enquiries about planning applications, and criticism of the Taoiseach for doing so on Donald Trump’s behalf is hypocritical.

His comments come after Leo Varadkar told an anecdote in Washington DC about taking a call from Mr Trump about a wind farm planning application before he was President.

"I think opposition politicians need to also be truthful and not hypocritical."

Many many politicians make enquiries about the status of a planning application for a new business, a new school, a house that a constituent would like to build in their area.

"I think that's what the Taoiseach did he made an enquiry as to the status, no more no less and I think it's been completely blown out of all proportion," said Minister Harris.

Meanwhile an Irish environmental group has said that it turned down help from Donald Trump in its objection to plans for a wind farm near his Doonbeg resort.

Friends of the Environment says it was against the plans on ecological grounds, but did not want help from the then businessman to remain independent.

The group's director, Tony Lowe, said, "We were concerened I think that our independence might be compromised in some way. Our arguments were very clear and we had made them to the local authority.

"I think our advice to Mr Trump was really that he should object himself ..."

The company behind the wind farm application has also expressed concern about the Taoiseach's comments in Washington and has pledged to "review" its position.

Michael Clohessy, director of Clare Coastal Wind Power, said 500,000 euro had been spent on the application.

He told RTE the issue was not something to be joked about in a speech, saying he and his colleagues had "sweated blood" trying to get the project off the ground.

"It's nothing to be laughed or joked about I can assure you," he said.

"If there has been an intervention by a minister, a tourism minister at the time, on behalf of Mr Donald Trump then we question what has happened within the planning process.

"This is supposed to be a clear planning process where we can see what happens but I am not so sure any more that that is the case."

Latest: Varadkar releases correspondence in relation to wind farm controversy

11.30am: It has emerged that Donald Trump offered assistance to an Irish environmental group to object to a wind farm near his Doonbeg golf resort.

It comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the press in Washington yesterday that he called Clare County Council about the proposal when he was Tourism Minister, following a phone call from the then businessman.

Friends of the Irish Environment say that they had objected to the development on ecological grounds, but declined Trump's offer of help to maintain their independence.

Director of the group Tony Lowes says he put two and two together when he heard Mr Varadkar's comments.

Mr Lowes said: "Well it reminded me of the phone call that came into me at around half ten in the morning from Donald Trump himself and his to offer to assist us in our objecting to the wind farm.

"He was very friendly and very affable, and showed a great dislike for wind farms."

10.38am: FG Senator claims Taoiseach made 'no intervention that was inappropriate' on behalf of Donald Trump

Clare Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway insists the Taoiseach has done nothing wrong:

Mr Conway told Newstalk Breakfast: "I think it's fairly clear there was no intervention that was inappropriate."

"There was no representation from the Taoiseach from when he was a minister at the time on the planning frame, there is no log of any call from the Taoiseach to Clare County Council and no representative from Clare County Council has any recollection of any call from Leo Varadkar on this matter.

"His office contacted Clare County Council to check the status of a planning file, which politicians do on a regular basis if someone contacts their office enquiring about a planning application, where it's at, what the story is with it, we regularly make phone calls with local authorities about planning to check the status.

"I am absolutely categorically sure there was no call from Leo Varadkar, I have spoken to people from Clare County Council and from Leo Varadkar's office."

10.15am: Wind farm company 'disappointed' over Taoiseach's contact with council on behalf of Donald TrumpThe wind farm company that was going to build a nine-turbine development near US President Donald Trump's golf course in Co Clare, has said it is "disappointed" at the Taoiseach's admission yesterday.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he had contacted planners in Clare County Council when he was Tourism Minister following a phone call from Mr Trump.

He said Mr Trump had asked about the proposals to build a wind farm about 4km from Trump International Golf Links in Doonbeg.

Latest: Varadkar releases correspondence in relation to wind farm controversy

In a statement, Clare Coastal Wind Power Director Michael Clohessy said the company "had at all times acted with integrity and in good faith, but it now appeared that it was not a level playing field".

Mr Clohessy told RTE News the company will review the situation.

6.45am: Opposition leaders demand clarity over Taoiseach's contact with council on behalf of Donald Trump

Opposition leaders are demanding clarity from the Taoiseach over his decision to contact planners in Clare County Council following a phone call from Donald Trump.

Mr Varadkar said that when he was Tourism Minister he got a call from Mr Trump, asking about proposals to build a wind farm near Doonbeg, where the billionaire owns a golf resort.

The Taoiseach says he has talked before about the matter, and that ministers often make enquiries about planning matters.

Speaking at the Friends of Ireland lunch yesterday, Mr Varadkar said: "At the other end of the phone was Donald Trump saying to me that he bought this resort in Ireland, in Co Clare, this beautiful golf resort called Doonbeg but there was a problem. Someone nearby was trying to build a wind farm and this could have a real impact on tourism and the beauty of the landscape."

"So, I endeavoured to do what I could do about it and I rang the county council and inquired about the planning permission and subsequently the planning permission was declined and the wind farm was never built, thus the landscape being preserved," Mr Varadkar said.

"The President has very kindly given me credit for that although I do think it would probably have been refused anyway but I'm very happy to take credit for that if the President is going to offer it to me," the Taoiseach added.

His spokesman told the Irish Examiner: “As minister for tourism, Leo Varadkar received a call from Donald Trump regarding a wind farm proposal near Doonbeg, which is a significant tourism asset on the west coast.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar makes a speech during the Speaker's Lunch at Capitol Hill. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar makes a speech during the Speaker's Lunch at Capitol Hill. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

“It’s normal for ministers to seek information on planning applications when issues are raised by citizens, businesses or investors. This matter has been mentioned publicly on many occasions by the Taoiseach. It was not a court case or judicial matter.”

Yet the move by his office to clarify Mr Varadkar’s comments did little to assuage the outrage in Ireland as opposition parties claimed Mr Varadkar’s actions hark back to the “dark days of planning where political interference ensured that the rich and powerful got what they wanted”.

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, tweeted: "Taoiseach needs to be more transparent in relation to his intervention with Clare County Council on behalf of President Trump regarding a planning application for a wind farm.

"Who did he ring? What was the nature of the intervention?"

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin condemned it as “entirely inappropriate” for Mr Varadkar to “meddle and intervene” on Mr Trump’s behalf for his own private business interests.

“That Leo Varadkar has made political representations essentially on behalf of the business interests of President Trump is extraordinary,” said Mr Howlin.

“The Taoiseach needs to make clear immediately the nature of these representations,”

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald expressed concern at Mr Varadkar’s comments, saying: “I am concerned and taken aback by the comments of the Taoiseach. There is a need for An Taoiseach to clarify his actions and the appropriateness of intervention on this planning matter.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: “This is a shocking admission from the Taoiseach, and it harks back to the very dark days in the Irish planning system, where political interference ensured that the rich and powerful got what they wanted.

The fact that the Taoiseach so flippantly admitted his intervention today only makes matters worse.

Clare County Council says no formal objection was logged from any public representative in relation to the wind turbines.

In a statement last night, Clare County Council said: "The Planning Application was received on 15th August 2014. All representations, objections and observations made in relation to this and all other planning applications are available to view on the planning file and the Clare County Council website."

The statement added: "There is no representation by Leo Varadkar, the then Minister for Tourism and Sport, or any Elected Member on this planning file. The decision on 8th October 2014 by Clare County Council to refuse this planning application was subsequently appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Following consideration of the appeal, An Bord Pleanála upheld the decision by Clare County Council and refused permission for the proposed development."

More on this topic

Taoiseach talks up his Brexit team in preparation for general electionTaoiseach talks up his Brexit team in preparation for general election

Varadkar to officially open Enterprise Ireland’s new office in CopenhagenVaradkar to officially open Enterprise Ireland’s new office in Copenhagen

Taoiseach defends expense of Trump and Pence visitsTaoiseach defends expense of Trump and Pence visits

Varadkar meets Tonight Show host and 'absolute gentleman' Jimmy Fallon in New York Varadkar meets Tonight Show host and 'absolute gentleman' Jimmy Fallon in New York


More in this Section

Pedestrian, 70, being treated for life-threatening injuries after collision with carPedestrian, 70, being treated for life-threatening injuries after collision with car

All women and families impacted by CervicalCheck scandal to get Dáil apologyAll women and families impacted by CervicalCheck scandal to get Dáil apology

Killarney deer struggling to walk suffering from suspected 'staggers' conditionKillarney deer struggling to walk suffering from suspected 'staggers' condition

National Bravery Awards: 'The award for me is that he is alive today'National Bravery Awards: 'The award for me is that he is alive today'


Lifestyle

This early 19th-century table is one of a number of Irish lots at Sotheby’s Style, Furniture and Ceramics sale in New York on Thursday (October 24).Irish lots poised to add bite to Big Apple sale

Something for all at Hegarty’s auction in Bandon, says Des O’SullivanSomething for all at Hegarty’s auction in Bandon

Des O’Sullivan gives a preview of the Irish selection on offer at two sales in DublinPreview of the Irish selection on offer at two sales in Dublin

Sunday Lunch costs €45 per person and includes several set courses but with a choice of mains.Restaurant Review: Bastible Restaurant, Dublin

More From The Irish Examiner