Leo Varadkar admits incorrect story; Taoiseach emailed Failte Ireland, not county council

Leo Varadkar is greeted by US vice president Mike Pence and wife Karen in Washington DC, USA. Picture: PA

Leo Varadkar has admitted that he gave an “incorrect” account when he suggested he lobbied a local authority on behalf of Donald Trump on a planning matter.

The Taoiseach moved to clarify comments that he contacted Clare County Council over a proposed windfarm near Mr Trump’s Doonbeg resort after the US president contacted him to raise his concerns.

Arriving in New York last night, Mr Varadkar said he had “incorrectly” remembered the event which happened four years ago and had in fact contacted Fáilte Ireland by email and not the council.

The Department of An Taoiseach moved to further clarify the story, which sparked controversy, by publishing the original email last night.

Speaking at the annual Speakers Lunch in Washington, Mr Varadkar said his relationship with Mr Trump went back further than their first face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office earlier this week.

“We actually had been in contact before, before the president became president and I became Taoiseach, and it happened three or four years ago when I was minister for tourism,” said Mr Varadkar.

During the phonecall, Mr Trump raised concerns that a windfarm might destroy the area.

“So I endeavoured to do what I could do about it and I rang the County Council and enquired about the planning permission and subsequently the planning permission was declined and the windfarm was never built — thus the landscape being preserved — and the president has very kindly given me credit for that, although I do think it probably would have been refused anyway,” Mr Varadkar told the event at Capitol Hill.

However, Mr Varadkar last night moved to clarify his comments claiming he “didn’t have a clear recollection at the time”, saying it was a “humorous anecdote about something that happened four years ago”.

“I have gone back again now and checked with my staff and checked the records,” he said. “I didn’t contact Clare County Council, either verbally or in writing, I did in fact contact Fáilte and I did that by an 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.”

He said it was “entirely within procedure, all entirely above board”.

“ I was telling a humorous anecdote about something that happened four years ago, the humorous part of it and the joke was that the president was giving me credit and praise for something that I didn’t actually do,” said Mr Varadkar.

He denied the remarks had damaged him, stating: “I wouldn’t categorise it as a gaff. This is politics and I realise in politics there are people who will try to make a controversy out of any remark so that’s just life.

“I think I will continue to be a straight talker and I will continue to be spontaneous and off-the-cuff and I think that’s one thing people expect from me.”

In the email from February 2014, Mr Varadkar wrote: “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.”

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