Leo Varadkar to meet Mike Pence as row emerges over golf course 'intervention'

The Taoiseach is later set to raise gay rights issues with US vice president Mike Pence as a controversy rages over an Irish golf course owned by President Trump.

Leo Varadkar's meeting with Mr Pence comes amid a row over 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 on Thursday, 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.

Taoiseach visits United States of America
Donald Trump greets Leo Varadkar at the annual shamrock presentation ceremony at the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

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 back in Ireland, with rival politicians demanding urgent clarity on the extent of Mr Varadkar's intervention.

Micheal Martin, the leader of main opposition party Fianna Fail, 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?"

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?

-- Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) March 15, 2018

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

The Taoiseach's spokesman later moved to clarify his remarks, insisting he did not act inappropriately and had only enquired about the application.

The issue threatens to overshadow the Taoiseach's breakfast meeting with Mr Pence at his Washington residence on Friday morning.

That encounter is controversial in itself, as Mr Varadkar has pledged to raise Mr Pence's controversial views on LGBT rights issues.

In a break with protocol, Mr Pence's officials have excluded the media from the event.

On Thursday, Mr Varadkar expressed disappointment at the move.

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."

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