Leo Varadkar windfarm move ‘reeks of clientelism’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s intervention in the planning process for a windfarm, at the behest of Donald Trump, has triggered claims that the move reeks of “clientelism”.

The controversy is expected to be raised in the Dáil this week and windfarm developer Michael Clohessy — whose project was rejected by Clare County Council — says he may consider legal action.

Mr Varadkar is under fire after his admission in the US last week that he called the council, when he was minister for tourism, after Mr Trump complained about the windfarm plans close to his Doonbeg golf resort.

As minister, Varadkar emailed Failte Ireland’s CEO in early 2014, asking the state agency under his remit to “review the planning applications” for Clare.

In a submission to the council, noting the Doonbeg resort, the tourism agency subsequently objected to windfarms in west Clare. In late 2014, the council refused permission for the windfarm. Mr Varadkar has defended his actions, saying they were “entirely within procedure”.

“I did what was entirely appropriate, which was to pass on those concerns to the relevant statutory agency, and I did so in writing,” he said. “That’s what any tourism minister should do. If an investor raises an issue, you should pass it on and that’s exactly what I did.”

The Sunday Times has also reported that Mr Varadkar passed a separate request from Mr Trump’s hotel, for state aid in footing a €1m storm damage bill in early 2014, to another minister. Opposition parties are set to raise the planning debacle in the Dail this week.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said there was grave concern about Mr Varadkar’s meddling in planning, at the behest of Donald Trump.

Ms Murphy added: “This kind of behind-the-scenes political intercession reeks of clientelism. Rather than putting the matter to rest, Mr Varadkar’s latest version of events raises more questions that must be answered.

“Was the minister’s email to the head of Fáilte Ireland decisive in the agency’s decision to subsequently make a submission objecting to the windfarm?”

She said the saga highlighted a need for transparency in relation to planning.

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