Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany yesterday
Varadkar said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and that he’s reassured by the depth of support from Germany, the EU’s most populous country.
“Ireland can rely on us,” Merkel said.
In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk was upbeat about over all progress on Brexit before chairing a two-day summit starting Thursday.
“We have achieved success” on defending the rights of citizens hit hardest by Britain’s departure and the divorce bill that May’s government must pay, Tusk wrote in an invitation letter to the leaders.
He said that May has accepted the idea of “full regulatory alignment between Ireland and Northern Ireland if there is no other possibility to avoid a hard border. This bodes well for the rest of the negotiations.”
In an article about Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Strategic Communications Unit…
Juno McEnroe reports:
Emails released under freedom of information show how the SCU is stretching its reach right into the nerve centre of departments and government decision making, at very senior levels.
The unit, led by marketing guru John Concannon, was even asked to participate in the controversial public services card project with the ID system under fire and receiving “an amount of public attention”.
…Emails between Mr Concannon, the SCU, and senior department officials, reveal fresh concerns, including:
The SCU drafting a parliamentary answer for then tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, instead of her staff, which was about justifying the existence of the unit itself. The same wording was used, after the SCU told a senior department senior official “grateful if you could use this version”;
Mr Concannon and the SCU oversaw plans for a health event launch in Mr Varadkar’s constituency relating to the new children’s paediatric outpatient and care unit at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown;
The Department of Public Expenditure told the unit that the controversial public services card was attracting “an amount of public attention” and sought the unit’s help for a PR campaign.
The SCU repeatedly tried to get ministers and their secretaries general to attend meetings, it trained senior civil servants, and was also asked to help the “anxious” short-staffed rural affairs department.
Various shows looked at the fall-out of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments in Washington yesterday when he claimed he made a call to Clare County Council when he was Minister for Tourism in 2014.
Readers will recall Mr Varadkar said he made the call after he got a phone call from Donald Trump, who was then a businessman, about a proposed wind farm which was to be built close to Mr Trump’s Doonbeg golf resort, subject to planning permission.
The wind farm subsequently didn’t get planning permission. [The decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanala but the board upheld the decision to refuse permission].
Readers will recall, Mr Varadkar specifically said of the permission not being granted:
“The president has very kindly given me credit for that, although I do think it would probably have been refused anyway. I’m very happy to take credit for it…”
Clare County Council last night said it had no record of any contact from Mr Varadkar.
This morning, on Morning Ireland, RTE’s Micheal Lehane reported:
“The latest on it is that it was in fact the Taoiseach’s office that made an inquiry about the status of the planning application.
“They say nothing more than that and a record probably wouldn’t be kept in that instance .
“And it’s being compared by Leo Varadkar’s side to a politician making a call about the status of a medical card and saying it’s nothing at all along the lines of any judicial matter so therefore, on that grounds, they say, it’s acceptable, but there’s no doubt, it is controversial and many in Leinster House believe it highly unusual given the nature of what was being proposed on the planning application and the big purchase at Doonbeg at the time.”
Later, also on Morning Ireland…
Presenter Dr Gavin Jennings spoke to Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley and Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway about the matter.
Dr Jennings specifically asked Senator Conway if Mr Varadkar rang the council – as Mr Varadkar himself said – or not.
From Mr Conway’s response…
“My understanding is that he didn’t ring the council. I’ve been speaking to council officials. None of them can recall receiving a phone call from Leo Varadkar.
“I have been talking to people in Leo Varadkar’s office who were working with Leo Varadkar at the time he was minister for transport and tourism and they’re absolutely clear that Leo Varadkar did not make a call – that, basically, somebody in his office made an inquiry in terms of the status update.
“As we all do on a regular basis, we regularly, as public representatives get phone calls about planning files by people who are supportive of them and people who are not supportive of them.
“Sometimes we will just check, we can do it online or we can make a phonecall to see what’s the story with this file, you know when is a decision due, and so forth.
“What the Taoiseach did was the Taoiseach sought information, his office sought information for somebody who was employing over 300 people down in West Clare.”
Further to Morning Ireland, on Today with Sean O’Rourke, which was presented by Damian O’Reilly…
Mr O’Reilly spoke to Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Louth Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd about the comments.
Mr O’Dowd said:
“It was a humorous side remark and I accept that’s what it was and it’s something that he spoke about on other occasions. The key point is that at the core of this is that he got a call from Donald Trump, he wasn’t president. Leo wasn’t Taoiseach at the time, he was Minister for Tourism and Sport.
“And indeed, people in public life receive calls all the time from business people, all the time from the public about this and the other and on planning issues, we’re often invited to meetings arguing people for something or against something and as Mr Howlin said there, I mean, Regina Doherty is strongly opposed a planning application for a wind farm in her own constituency, so there’s nothing new…
“[Leo] made a query, through his office, as to what was the status of the application and that’s what he did.”
“…there was no law broken, it wasn’t interference…”
“...he didn’t interfere, he made a query...”
“The office inquired about the planning permission, they didn’t make representation and that’s the democratic process…”
“But the other point is he did it openly, there’s nothing hidden about this, he spoke about it two years ago [in Time magazine], he joked about it in public, what’s the big deal here?“
On Ryan Tubridy’s RTE Radio One show Tubridy…
Mr Tubridy said:
“All the papers covering the trip to Washington by the Taoiseach. And, you know, part of me thinks, oh, he’s telling his story about Doonbeg and I presume he thought, it’s a gas story and it’s a bit of an old, a bit of fun, and you’re in Washington.
“But, you know what, when you’re Taoiseach and you’re in Washington, you have to remember that you might aswell be on the main street in Killarney or wherever you want to be in Clare because it’s just, you kind of think when you go out there, you think the rules are a bit different but they’re not.
“And sure enough, we’re not talking about trade and immigrants in as much a way as you can hear on Morning Ireland there, the interest of the trip has really been slanted towards what he said about Doonbeg and the wind farm and you heard [Fianna Fail TD] Timmy Dooley, a local interest, talking about that.
“I’d say that they’re probably…a bit of a face palm, ‘oh, if only, maybe, you just didn’t need to tell that story and maybe if you hadn’t and everything else’, but…anyway…that’s what he did and that’s what they’re doing.”
“The headline in The [Irish] Times is: ‘Trump open to deal on undocumented’, but actually it’s the story that seems to be getting the most traction is the on the side which is ‘Varadkar criticised over Doonbeg’.
“Bit of a pity really because those trips are really meant to be fun, good news trips and you come back armed with loads of stories about investment and everything…“
From top: Leo Varadkar with US president Donald Trump at The White House yesterday and above at an earlier lunch in the Capitol Hill building where he revealed his efforts to help prevent a wind farm being built near the Trump golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare
Mr Varadkar said that about three or four years ago, when he was minister for tourism, he received a call from Mr Trump who said he had a “problem” near Doonbeg, that somebody was trying to build a wind farm that would “impact on tourism”.
The Taoiseach said he initially thought the call was “a pisstake by one of my staff members” as he thought a businessman like Mr Trump would write a letter first to set up a meeting.
“But, as we all know, President Trump does work like that. He is a very direct man, likes to get things done,…
“…So I endeavoured to do what I could do about it and I rang the county council and inquired about the planning permission and subsequently the planning permission was declined and the wind farm was never built.
Clare County Council release the following statement…
“The planning application was received on 15th August 2014. All representations, objections and observations made in relation to this and all other planning applications are available to view on planning file and the Clare County Council website.
“There is no representation by Leo Varadkar, the then Minister for Tourism and Sport, or any elected member on this planning file. The decision on 8th October 2014 by Clare County Council to refuse this planning application was subsequently appealed to An Bord Pleanala. Following consideration of the appeal, An Bord Pleanala upheld the decision by Clare County Council and refused permission for the proposed development.”
An Bord Planala was set up for this reason, to stop central Government from meddling but @FineGael are above anything like that. Rules don’t apply, they can ride roughshod over an entire nation for 7 years using austerity as their excuse for giving their rich friends a dig out!
A myriad of pro-life group presidents wrote and signed a letter they will hand deliver to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar during his Thursday visit to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day festivities, encouraging him to uphold Ireland’s tradition of protecting life amidst calls to legalize abortion in the Catholic-dominated country.
“While St. Patrick’s Day has always been a day for the Irish all over the world to celebrate their heritage, and politics often takes a backseat on this special day, we feel we cannot remain silent because innocent lives are at stake,” presidents of the March For Life, Students For Life of America, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United For Life, Live Action, Heartbeat International and other pro-life groups wrote in their letter to the prime minster.
From top: US president Donald Trump and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the White House last year’ Leo Varadkar with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger during a visit to Santa Monica, Los Angeles yesterday; Shane Heneghan
Ahead of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s first visit to the White House this week.
Shane Heneghan writes:
It won’t be easy, will it? It’s not going to be one of your best photo ops. In fact, it will probably have your liberal east coast fan base up in arms- and shaking hands with the entire Choctaw nation won’t change that. It’s probably best to concede that the St. Patrick’s day rendezvous with the Donald is a necessary evil. But is it?
When your predecessor, John A. Costello, inaugurated this paddy wackery by giving Eisenhower a bowl of shamrock in the 1950s, the atmosphere was very different.
Ireland was going through it’s toughest decade economically of the 20th, century and immigration was threatening to push the population below two million. America’s economy, by contrast was roaring ahead and national self confidence was still sky high after victory in world war two.
But Taoiseach, you are no John A. Costello and, it goes without saying that Trump is not Ike.
Does it really have to be a given that our head of government has to slavishly kow-tow to the President of the United States on our national holiday every single year regardless of who holds either office?
Surely other countries on the radar would be just as accommodating. I have a few suggestions on your alternatives.
Berlin: You came to power seeking to lead a government of the “European centre” so for Paddy’s day why not go to the centre of Europe? Poor auld Angie has had a rough few months putting a coalition together. I know you can sympathise with this and we all know she has a green pants suit she’s just dying to wear for the occasion.
London: Not a conventional choice, I grant you. But our Theresa is another women in dire need of a break and could do with putting things into soft focus for a while- it just might help ease the brexit tensions. Plus, if you ask nicely, I’m sure she’ll let you see the Hugh Grant staircase again too.
Edinburgh: By contrast you could seek to emphasise older Celtic links as Nicola Sturgeon is hugely popular in Ireland and in general. The optics of a visit to Scotland would just scream “Hey Theresa, I got a hard border for ya, it starts in Berwick-on-Tweed!” Plus a photo of you in a kilt will totes break the internet- you can’t buy that.
Paris: We all know you want another chance to spring some more leaving cert French on us and the reflective glow factor from Emmanuel Macron is massive, I don’t need to tell you that- but be careful of being burned a la Icarus by flying to close to the sun (king).
Ottowa: You know who you’re real ideological soul mate in North America is and he doesn’t live on Pennsylvania avenue. We can bet he’s got a pair of green socks just waiting for the occasion.
Joking aside, politely refusing to meet Trump for just one year out of his four year term could send a powerful statement around the world about your government’s values. Think about it. It might be one of the most powerful diplomatic tools you have at your disposal.
Shane Heneghan is a Brussels-based election and poll watcher. Follow Shane on Twitter: @shaneheneghan
Picked myself up off the floor to check this (above) was not a spoof. Not sure if this is a new low for that paper but it would appear there is at least no requirement for the SpIn Unit at Independent newspapers….