Wednesday 25 April 2018

Varadkar discusses equality and rights issues with US vice president Pence

Leo Varadkar said he raised rights issues with Mike Pence.

Leo Varadkar and US vice president Mike Pence (Marty Katz/Government Press Office/PA)
Leo Varadkar and US vice president Mike Pence (Marty Katz/Government Press Office/PA)

By Michelle Devane in Washington DC, Press Association

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has discussed equality and LGBT rights issues with US vice president Mike Pence during his St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington DC.

Mr Varadkar said he raised rights issues with Mr Pence, who has been criticised for his stance on the matter, when he met the Pence family at the vice president’s residence on Friday morning.

“I did privately manage to speak to them about equality and my support for equal rights for women and the LGBT community here in America and also in Ireland,” the Taoiseach said.

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Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is greeted by US vice president Mike Pence and wife Karen (Niall Carson/PA)

“They were very well briefed.

“They knew about my personal story, they knew that my partner was living in Chicago, and they said that both Matt and I would both be welcome to visit their home in future, so I thought that was a very nice gesture.”

At the meeting, the vice president invited Mr Varadkar’s partner Matt to join him for next year’s St Patrick’s Day event.

“There are so many ifs and maybes, first of all I have to survive another year in my current office and secondly, Matt is not terribly keen to attend official functions but you never know,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Pence also confirmed he would accept Mr Varadkar’s invite to visit Ireland.

The men met behind closed doors at the vice president’s Naval Observatory residence in the US capital.

In a break with protocol, Mr Pence’s officials barred media from the traditional St Patrick’s event.

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.

Media were only permitted to capture the arrival of the Taoiseach.

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.”

After Friday’s meeting, the Taoiseach said he had a really nice engagement with the Pence family where he met Mr Pence’s mother, who has Irish heritage.

“His mother really knows Ireland very well,” Mr Varadkar said. “Her father was born in Ireland.”

He added she was even able to tell the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme in the Irish language.

Press Association

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