'Call me Leo' - Taoiseach welcomes Pence to Dublin as US Vice President faces criticism for staying in Doonbeg
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has welcomed the US Vice-President and Second Lady to Farmleigh House in Dublin with the simple greeting: “Call me Leo.”
Mr Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett were initially caught wrong footed as they waited on Mike and Karen Pence to emerge from a Secret Service motorcade.
Standing at the doors of the mansion in the Phoenix Park, the couple were waiting for their guests to step out of one car – only to discover the Pences were already behind them.
However, Mr Varadkar recovered quickly to welcome the Vice President to Ireland.
As Karen Pence tried to address him by his official title, Mr Varadkar laughed: “Call me Leo.”
The presence of Mr Barrett at today’s formal events is notable because of Mr Pence’s objections to full equality of rights for the LGBT community.
The doctor made headlines in the United States last March when he attended a breakfast meeting with the Taoiseach at Mr Pence’s home in Washington.
Karen Pence was not present on that occasions leading Mr Barrett to immediately tell her he was sorry to miss her during the trip.
He welcomed her to Dublin before the group posed for official photographs.
The politicians are this afternoon holding a bilateral which will deal with issues including Brexit, Northern Ireland and immigration.
The Taoiseach will then host a lunch which will also be attended by his parents, Miriam and Ashok.
Mr Pence entourage also includes his mother Nancy and sister Ann.
Mr Varadkar used the opportunity to show Nancy Pence the military service record of her father, Richard Michael Cawley.
He served in the Defence Forces during the civil war.
In a statement after their meeting, President Michael D Higgins said the conversation reflected on the “deep bonds and during relations of friendship, culture and trade”.
Áras an Uachtaráin said they emphasised “the need for continued multilateral cooperation to effectively address global and regional challenges”.
“President Higgins acknowledged long-standing US support for the peace process in Northern Ireland and highlighted the importance of human rights and equality legislation in resolving the conflict and promoting social change on the island of Ireland.
“The President spoke of the two nations’ shared concerns about the challenges posed by Brexit and stressed the important role of multilateral cooperation in addressing complex global issues such as conflict, poverty, food insecurity and climate change,” the statement said.
The two leaders also discussed issues of Irish, European and current global relevance, including recent developments in the European Union.
Mr Higgins and Mr Pence also discussed the Vice President’s family ties with Ireland and the role of Irish migrants in the United States.
“The President emphasised the importance of responding adequately and compassionately to the needs of migrants and refugees, within the framework of international migration law,” the Áras said.
Earlier, he and his wife Karen met with President Michael D Higgins and they both signed the visitors book.
Mr Pence wrote: “In memory of a great Irishman Richard Michael Cawley and on behalf of the United States of America. We are delighted to be back in Ireland!”
He and the President had a brief meeting in the State Drawing Room.
An aide said they were expected to discuss the long-standing relationship between Ireland and the US and the story of migration, with President Higgins thanking the US for its support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
He was also expected to stress the importance of multi-lateral cooperation to address the challenges of climate change.
Brexit was also on the agenda.
LGBT issues were also expected to be discussed in the context of equality and human rights, a spokesperson said.
Mr Pence was accompanied to the Aras by his mother, Nancy Pence-Fritsch and his sister Ann Poynter.
The US ambassador to Ireland Edward Crawford was joined by the Irish Ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall.
Mr Pence was also accompanied by a large number of White House Press.
However, Pence has been criticised for staying at President Donald Trump's Doonbeg resort in Co Clare - despite the fact that all his meeting are 300km away in Dublin.
Pence flew to Dublin on Tuesday after spending the night at the Trump International Golf Club in Doonbeg. The hotel also hosted the Trump family during a short trip to Ireland by the president in June.
Asked if Trump had suggested Pence stay at the property, the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, told journalists, "I think that it was a suggestion."
"It’s like when we went through the trip it’s like, 'Well, he’s going to Doonbeg because that is where his family is from, it’s like 'Oh, you should stay at my place'," Short said. "It wasn’t like a 'you must'. It wasn’t like a 'you have to'."
However, Democratic Party politicians aren't impressed. California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu on Twitter accused Pence of "funneling taxpayer money" to Trump by staying at the hotel. "You took an oath to the Constitution, not to @realDonaldTrump," Lieu said.
The Democratic National Committee also chimed in, saying in a post on its DNC War Room Twitter feed that Pence's choice of hotel meant "your tax dollars: making the Trump family richer."
Short said the original plan had been to hold meetings in Dublin and go to Doonbeg afterwards. A last-minute schedule change meant Pence would need to visit Dublin after over-nighting in Ireland, and no hotel in Dublin had been properly vetted.
Pence's stay was paid for by the US taxpayer, but the vice-president personally paid for his sister and mother, who travelled with him, Short said. Pence's great-grandmother was from Doonbeg.
Trump has retained ownership of his hotels, golf courses and other businesses, but he gave control of the businesses to his sons shortly before he took office in January 2017.
Former government ethics officials and watchdog groups say Trump has failed to put safeguards in place to ensure that he does not directly profit from his actions as president.
With additional reporting from Reuters