Monday 23 September 2019

An evangelical hardliner with his roots in Ireland and a talent for courting controversy in American politics

Us Vice President Mike Pence arriving with his wife Karen and his Mother Nancy at Doonbeg Village to greet locals at Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Us Vice President Mike Pence arriving with his wife Karen and his Mother Nancy at Doonbeg Village to greet locals at Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Mike Pence and his family are visiting Ireland but who is the US vice-president, what are his links to Ireland, and why is he considered controversial by many?

Q: Who is Mike Pence?

Mike Pence (60) grew up in Indiana, the US state where he would later become governor. Raised a Catholic in an Irish-American family, he later became an evangelical, born-again Christian. He married his wife Karen in 1986 and the couple have three grown-up children.

He allegedly addresses Karen - who shares his conservative views on issues such as gay rights - in a rather old-fashioned manner as 'mother'. He reportedly told US media outlet 'The Hill' that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, and won't attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side.

Q: What are his connections to Ireland?

Mr Pence has roots in both Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and Doonbeg, Co Clare, where coincidentally President Donald Trump owns a golf club and hotel. The vice-president's grandfather Richard Michael Cawley - who was a member of the Irish Free State's army -emigrated to the US in 1923. Some of Mr Pence's great grandparents emigrated to the US from Co Clare in the late 19th century.

At their meeting at Mr Pence's Washington DC residence earlier this year, Leo Varadkar said he hoped the vice-president would bring his mother Nancy with him to Ireland, and Ms Pence is accompanying her son on this week's visit. Mr Pence has previously said: "All that I am, all that I will ever be and all the service that I will ever give is owed to my Irish heritage."

Q: Why is Mike Pence considered controversial?

He is ultra-conservative, strongly opposed to abortion and has resisted efforts to extend LGBT rights in the US. He was a member of the so-called Tea Party movement in the Republican Party that arose in the late Noughties. Mr Pence was a Congressman at the time but was later elected governor of Indiana in 2013.

He has opposed same-sex marriage and in 2006 supported a constitutional amendment in the House of Representatives that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In a speech he argued that "societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family".

Q: How does he get on with Leo Varadkar, one of the world's few openly gay leaders?

Mr Pence has welcomed the Taoiseach into his home twice and the pair appear to have a respectful relationship despite their fundamental disagreement on LGBT issues. Mr Varadkar has described Mr Pence as "a real friend of Ireland". The media was excluded from their 2018 meeting at the US Naval Observatory. Mr Varadkar discussed gay rights with Mr Pence privately on that occasion.

At the time Mr Pence invited the Taoiseach to bring his partner, cardiologist Matt Barrett, to his home for this year's St Patrick's Day festivities. The press were present this year to hear Mr Varadkar deliver a carefully crafted speech. He said he was there as "leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions and not my sexual orientation or my skin tone or my gender or religious beliefs".

He said he didn't believe Ireland is the only country where this is possible adding: "We are after all, all God's children". Mr Pence said the Taoiseach had offered "inspiring words".

Their families had lunch together at Farmleigh House yesterday, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere revealed on Twitter.

Q: What did Mr Pence and the Taoiseach discuss?

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to use his meeting with the vice-president to outline the impact of Brexit on Ireland but he would have been disappointed with Mr Pence's public response yesterday which was: "We urge Ireland and the European Union, as well, to negotiate in good faith with Prime Minister Johnson, and work to reach an agreement that respects the United Kingdom's sovereignty and minimises the disruption to commerce."

Irish Independent

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