Mike Pence ignores questions about behind-closed-doors meeting with Taoiseach

Mike Pence ignores questions about behind-closed-doors meeting with Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has met Vice President Mike Pence in a behind-closed-doors encounter at his residence in Washington.

In a break with protocol, Mr Pence's officials barred media from the traditional St Patrick's event at his Naval Observatory residence in the US capital.

The move came after Mr Varadkar stated he was going to raise the issue of LGBT rights with the socially conservative vice president who has faced criticism for his stance on the issue.

Media were only permitted to capture the arrival of the Taoiseach this morning. As the politicians exchanged greetings, Mr Pence ignored questions from reporters as to why the engagement was private.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar expressed disappointment at the media ban.

He said he would have preferred if the cameras were allowed in to document their comments, but the Taoiseach added: "It allows us maybe to have a frank conversation that's easier to have without the media present."

This morning's encounter took place amid a controversy over an Irish golf course owned by President Donald Trump.

The row centres on an intervention the Taoiseach made on a planning decision linked to Mr Trump's Co Clare course at Doonbeg.

The furore flared when Mr Varadkar, in an unscripted anecdote during a St Patrick's lunch on Capitol Hill yesterday, outlined details of a phone call he received from the high-profile businessman four years ago.

Mr Trump told Mr Varadkar, then tourism minister, he was unhappy about a planned wind farm in view of the course.

With the president looking on, Mr Varadkar told Speaker Paul Ryan's lunch event that upon taking the call he contacted the local county council and "endeavoured to do what I could do about it".

The planning permission was later declined, he added.

"I do think it probably would have been refused anyway but I am very happy to take credit for it if the president is going to offer it to me," said the Taoiseach.

The Fine Gael leader's remarks prompted a wave of criticism from opposition parties here, with TDs demanding urgent clarity on the extent of Mr Varadkar's intervention.

The picture was further clouded when Clare County Council issued a statement last night saying it had no record of a representation made by the then tourism minister.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman has moved to clarify his remarks, insisting he did not act inappropriately and had only enquired about the application.

- PA

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