Leo Varadkar and Mike Pence hold private meeting after media barred

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, Ireland's first openly gay leader, 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 on Friday morning. As the politicians exchanged greetings, Mr Pence ignored questions from reporters as to why the engagement was private.

On Thursday, 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."

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

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

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 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.

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.

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 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?"

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.

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

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