On RTE’s Radio One.
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…“
Listen back to Morning Ireland here
Listen back to Tubridy here
Listen back to Today with Sean O’Rourke here