Sunday 16 December 2018

Pence tells Varadkar his partner Matt would be 'welcome in his home' next year as he confirms plans to visit Ireland

The annual meeting - usually open to the media - was held behind closed doors for the first time

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addresses Vice President Mike Pence during his speech at the St Patrick's Day breakfast (picture provided by the Taoiseach's office)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addresses Vice President Mike Pence during his speech at the St Patrick's Day breakfast (picture provided by the Taoiseach's office)

Philip Ryan and Jason O'Brien in Washington DC

US VICE President Mike Pence told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar his partner Matt Barrett would be welcome in his home should he decide to attend the next year’s St Patrick’s Day visit to the US.

It is understood Mr Pence enquired after the Taoiseach’s partner when they spoke yesterday in the White House and asked why he had not brought Mr Barrett on the trade mission.

A government source said Mr Varadkar and Mr Pence had a “tête-à-tête” during the official visit. Another source confirmed Mr Varadkar did discuss LGBT rights with Mr Pence and his wife Karen during a discussion in the White House.

The Taoiseach is expected to make comments on the invitation extended to Mr Barrett when he speaks later today.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his speech at the St Patrick's Day breakfast of Vice President Mike Pence (picture provided by the Taoiseach's office)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his speech at the St Patrick's Day breakfast of Vice President Mike Pence (picture provided by the Taoiseach's office)

Mr Varadkar made no reference to the issue of LGBT rights during his speech at the St Patrick's Day breakfast hosted by Mr Pence this morning.

The media was prohibited from attending the breakfast in a break with long-standing tradition - at the request of the socially-conservative Mr Pence's office.

Mr Varadkar is one of very few openly gay world leaders, and had repeatedly said he would talk with Mr Pence about various social issues.

This morning, Mr Pence ignored questions from the media as he and his wife Karen welcomed Mr Varadkar to his official residence in The Naval Observatory in Washington DC.

The Taoiseach also did not respond when he was asked if he would raise marriage equality with the Vice President.

Mr Pence broke with a long held tradition this year and insisted that the Vice President’s St Patrick’s Day breakfast be held behind closed doors with no access to the media.

Leo Varadkar and his partner Matthew Barrett during the Montreal Pride parade
Leo Varadkar and his partner Matthew Barrett during the Montreal Pride parade

Traditionally, the annual meeting can be recorded and reported on for the public.

Mr Pence is a social conservative politician who has been criticised for his stance on LGBT rights.

Mr Varadkar has said he would have preferred the meeting to be held in public.

However, he added that the private meeting may allow the two politicians have a “frank conversation”.

Sources in the Vice President’s Office said Mr Pence has held his recent meetings with world leaders behind closed doors.

In Mr Varadkar's speech he repeatedly referenced Mr Pence's Irish ancestry. The vice president's grandfather emigrated from Sligo in the 1920s.

"I understand that as a child Vice-President Pence could recite the nursery rhyme, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in Irish after learning it from his grandfather," he said at one point.

"I won’t embarrass him by asking him how much he remembers.  I won’t embarrass myself by admitting I only know it in English."

The Taoiseach, not for the first time this week, also talked about the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the issue of the border with Northern Ireland, and again referenced the €2bn in trade each day between Ireland and America.

During his speech the Vice President spoke about his Irish heritage and confirmed he will travel to Ireland at the invitation of the Taoiseach.

"And Taoiseach invited our family to come to Ireland in my official capacity, and so I’d like to announce to all of you: The Pence’s will be traveling

to Ireland in the coming years.  I promise you that.  We will accept that wonderful invitation," he said.

Mr Pence said the two countries would be looking to strengthen their trade ties telling those gathered:

"We’ll look for ways in the near future to strengthen our economic relationship, our mutual commitment to security, and, as our stories have intertwined in the past, I know they will continue to intertwine for the betterment of both of our people for generations to come."

Mr Pence said it was an honour to host Mr Varadkar for the first time and said there were "great and productive discussions yesterday" at the White House, adding that under the two leaders the Irish-US relationship would strengthen.

Mr Pence - whose grandfather emigrated to the US from Co Sligo - spoke about his family's history and described the US as "a place where the American dream could happen for so many Irish immigrants and their descendants.  And it happened in our family".

Earlier this week Mr Varadkar used another speaking engagement to make a rallying call for the survival of the American Dream which he said was "faltering".

“These are our Irish values today.  We believe in equality before the law for all citizens, irrespective of gender, race or religion.

“This will all sound very familiar to you, because these were American values long before they were ours,” he added, calling for the protection of those ideals.

Online Editors

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