Monday 16 July 2018

Taoiseach makes rallying cry for 'faltering' American Dream as media banned from Pence meeting

Reporting ban placed on Varadkar and Pence meeting at request of US officials

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the American Ireland Gala Fund dinner in Washington DC as part of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the American Ireland Gala Fund dinner in Washington DC as part of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Jason O’Brien in Washington DC

The Taoiseach has issued a rallying call for the ‘American Dream’ ahead of his meeting with US President Donald Trump today, saying the dream of freedom, opportunity and hope for all citizens – regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion – must survive.

Leo Varadkar’s remarks – which drew on his personal experience of growing up gay with an Indian father - will likely be seen as strong criticism of the stance taken by Mr Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, on various social issues, including LGBT rights and migration. 

He spoke just hours after it emerged that his much-anticipated meeting with Mr Pence on Friday will now be held behind closed doors, breaking with tradition.

Mr Varadkar is one of very few openly-gay world leaders and Mr Pence has been criticised for his views on LGBT rights. Breakfast meetings between various vice presidents and Taoisigh dating back a number of years have allowed media access.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley at the American Ireland Gala Fund dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington DC as part of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley at the American Ireland Gala Fund dinner at the National Building Museum in Washington DC as part of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“American ideals and American values that spread around the world meant that a young boy growing up in Ireland, with an Indian father and an Irish mother, could dream of one day becoming the leader of his country, believing that the time would come when people would be judged on their principles and their ideals, on the content of their character and the quality of the work, and not on their sexuality orientation or the colour of their skin,” the Taoiseach told the Ireland Funds dinner on Wednesday night to sustained applause.

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

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC on day four of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC on day four of his week long visit to the United States of America. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“This will all sound very familiar to you, because these were American values long before they were ours,” he added.

The Taoiseach has said repeatedly that he planned to talk about various social issues with members of the Trump administration during his high-profile visit.

Last night he warned “that sometimes fires can be extinguished, and sometimes freedoms can die”.

“That’s why from time to time it can concern us if it seems that America falters in any way from that path but we know that the American spirit and American values remain strong,” Mr Varadkar told an audience of 800, including approximately 25 members of the US Congress.  

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala arrive at US VP Mike Pence's home
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala arrive at US VP Mike Pence's home

“In these challenging times, it is our responsibility to keep all those challenging dreams alive.”

His scripted remarks came a few hours after it was learned that the media will be prohibited from attending the breakfast meeting at the Vice President’s residence on Friday, and reporting on the remarks.

It is understood the decision to bar the media was taken by the Vice President’s office.

Irish Government sources said they are “not happy” the media are being prevented from reporting on the event, and are working to revert to the original itinerary which included media access.

Mr Pence has long been criticised for his opposition to gay rights and is a rumoured supporter of conversion therapy – a discredited practice that proponents claim can make gay people straight. He has denied it.

The Taoiseach was asked earlier yesterday if he will raise the issue of conversion therapy when they meet.

"I'm told Vice President Pence is not a supporter of conversion therapy even though some people have alleged he is," he said.

"But I imagine if I have the opportunity - I'm going to meet him over breakfast - so if I have the opportunity I'll certainly be mentioning the wider issue of equal rights and freedoms for LGBT."

Online Editors

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