Europe

Leo Varadkar under fire over Trump wind farm call

President Trump and Leo Varadkar shake hands
Image caption Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump spoke on Thursday at the White House

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has received criticism over comments he made about helping President Donald Trump resolve a planning issue in 2014.

Mr Varadkar, who at the time was the Irish tourism minister, said on Thursday that he spoke to Clare County Council regarding a planning application for a wind farm near Doonbeg golf resort.

The resort was purchased by Mr Trump in 2014.

The planning application was refused.

The taoiseach clarified on Friday that he did not in fact contact Clare County Council, but instead contacted Fáilte Ireland - the tourism authority in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Trump tweeted about the decision in 2014 and said it was "great news from Ireland - Clare County Council turned down a massive wind farm near my hotel & golf course in Doonbeg".

Mr Varadkar discussed his role in resolving the dispute on Thursday, while in Washington DC for traditional St Patrick's Day celebrations.

At first he thought it was his staff playing a joke when told that Donald Trump was on the line. Mr Trump was worried that plans for the wind farm would affect the tourist numbers in the area.

"I endeavoured to do what I could do about it," said Mr Varadkar.

"I rang the county council and inquired about the planning permission and subsequently the planning permission was declined and the wind farm never built, thus the landscape had been preserved.

"And the president has very kindly given me credit for that, although I do think it would have been refused anyway, but I'm very happy to take credit for it, if the president is going to offer it to me."

Clare County Council has said it does not have any record or recollection of Mr Varadkar making an inquiry about a planning application for a proposed wind farm four years ago.

'Privately interfered'

The council said it decided to refuse the planning application on 8 October 2014, a decision that was upheld by the Irish planning appeals board.

A spokesperson for the taoiseach said the minister had asked his office to make an inquiry as to the status of application and that it was "normal work of a minister's office".

Speaking to reporters in New York on Friday, Mr Varadkar said he contacted Fáilte Ireland, and not Clare County Council.

He said that following the controversy over his remarks yesterday he had gone back and checked with his staff and checked the record.

Politicians in the Republic of Ireland have condemned Mr Varadkar's actions.

Sinn Féin's justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said: "There is no way that politicians should intervene in the planning process by way of phone calls and backdoor interference."s

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan accused Mr Varadkar of having "privately interfered in the planning process" while Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the intervention was extraordinary and inappropriate.

The Green Party described the call as a shocking error of judgement while Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the intervention was extraordinary and inappropriate.

Mr Varadkar is visiting the US ahead of St Patrick's Day on Saturday.

He met with President Trump in the White House on Thursday and, later, presented the president with a bowl of shamrocks as part of the traditional celebrations.

During the ceremony, the taoiseach said the Irish government would continue to work with the US government to find a solution to the issue of undocumented Irish people in the US.

He also said that "the United States has helped build modern Ireland, one that is prosperous and at peace, self-confident about our place in the world".

President Trump said he had told the taoiseach that he has plans to visit Ireland in the near future.

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