The Taoiseach has faced the embarrassment of having to “clarify” comments that he contacted Clare County Council on behalf of Donald Trump on a planning matter, claiming he remembered it incorrectly.
Leo Varadkar came under fierce criticism on Thursday after suggesting he lobbied the local authority to deny planning permission to a proposed wind farm close to Mr Trump’s Doonbeg resort.
Speaking at the annual Speakers Lunch in Washington, Mr Varadkar said he had received a call from Mr Trump as tourism minister, and contacted Clare County Council to enquire about the proposed development.
However, in a significant climb-down, Mr Varadkar last night moved to alter this account, claiming he “didn’t have a clear recollection at the time”, adding it was a “humorous anecdote about something that happened four years ago”.
Taoiseach says he did not call council over wind farm development pic.twitter.com/j5YKQVVaSl— RTÉ News (@rtenews) March 16, 2018
“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.”
Mr Varadkar said it was “entirely within procedure, all entirely above board”.
Speaking as he arrived in New York, the Taoiseach denied he had been overwhelmed by the occasion or starstruck by meeting Mr Trump.
Mr Varadkar had come under pressure to clarify his role in a planning decision in Doonbeg nearly four years ago.
Here's the email Leo Varadkar says he sent to Fáilte Ireland about the Doonbeg wind farm plans. Says he didn't get in touch with Clare Co Council pic.twitter.com/E1Tc43vD37— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) March 16, 2018
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the Taoiseach’s initial comments were a sign of “Leo losing the run of himself” and the issue is jarring at every level. Mr Howlin said Mr Varadkar may have been exaggerating his own involvement so as “to have a tale to tell” at the White House.
The businessman behind a failed plan to build a wind farm near Donald Trump’s Co Clare golf resort said he was disappointed that Mr Varadkar had “interfered” in the planning process.
Michael Clohessy, director of Clare Coastal Wind Power, said he was “shocked”, and that his company would be “reviewing this situation” following Mr Varadkar’s comments.
Mr Varadkar also confirmed that US vice president Mike Pence had extended an invitation to him and his partner, Matt Barrett, to visit his home in the future.
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