Thursday 17 January 2019

Varadkar to praise tax moves by Trump and invite him to Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the global Irish lunch at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC yesterday. Photo: Niall Carson
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the global Irish lunch at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC yesterday. Photo: Niall Carson

Jason O'Brien and Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will invite Donald Trump to Ireland when he meets the US president today - and will congratulate him on emulating Ireland's tax system.

In February last year - when he was social protection minister and an invitation was first mooted - Mr Varadkar insisted he wouldn't invite Mr Trump if it was his decision, and said he wasn't sure what purpose an invitation would serve.

But speaking in Washington yesterday, the Taoiseach confirmed he will talk to Mr Trump about a visit during their bilateral meeting tomorrow morning.

"The invitation that Taoiseach Enda Kenny made to Donald Trump (last year) stands," he said.

"Donald Trump has invited me to Washington DC. He has invited me to his house and I think it is just normal hospitality that when someone invites you to their house, and their country, that you reciprocate the invitation.

"I'm not into golf so I won't be playing golf with him if he comes to Doonbeg, but perhaps it will be an opportunity for him to potentially visit some of the Irish companies that invest in the US."

US President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
US President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

He also indicated he felt the president would be interested in visiting the Border region, having spoken to him about it during a brief phone call shortly after Mr Varadkar became Taoiseach.

"I know that's something he expressed an interest in when we spoke on the phone some months ago. He was very interested in that," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said there has been no indication from the White House on whether Mr Trump plans to take up the existing offer. Mr Trump has, in the past, specifically named Ireland when he complained about American jobs and investment going overseas and praised Apple when it announced it would be bringing some roles back to the United States.

But Mr Varadkar said the area of tax was one he is keen to focus on when he meets the president. American firms employ 150,000 people in Ireland.

"I think what President Trump has done in many ways is emulated our tax policy, decided it makes sense to have lower tax for business and it makes sense to tax companies on the money they make in your country rather than trying to tax them on money they make in other parts of the world.

"So, if anything, I'll be congratulating him on the fact he's successfully changed American tax laws and brought them more into line with ours. I'm not going to criticise him for going a long way towards the tax system we have in Ireland which I think is going to benefit America and benefit Ireland too," he said.

The Taoiseach will also meet Vice-President Mike Pence, and is due to have breakfast at his residence tomorrow.

However, unlike the meeting between Mr Pence and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny last year which was open to the media, tomorrow's meeting will be behind closed doors.

Traditionally, the St Patrick's Day breakfast meeting between the Taoiseach and the Vice-President is attended by reporters and their comments can be reported to the public.

Mr Varadkar is one of few openly gay world leaders and Mr Pence has been criticised for his views on LGBT rights.

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

Irish Government sources said they were "not happy" the media would be prevented from reporting on the event. "It's the decision of the Vice-President's office," the source added.

It is understood Department of Foreign Affairs staff are still consulting with Mr Pence's office about the situation. Mr Pence has long been known 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.

The Taoiseach was asked if he will raise the issue 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. "If I have the opportunity I'll certainly be mentioning the wider issue of equal rights and freedoms for LGBT."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she did not feel snubbed by Mr Trump after she did not receive an invitation to attend the annual St Patrick's Day ceremony.

Ms McDonald insisted former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams should not turn down his invitation in solidarity with his party colleague. She has previously attended the shamrock ceremony in the White House.

Speaking in Washington, the day before the event, Ms McDonald said: "I don't feel that I was snubbed.

"It is a matter for the White House who they invite as their guests."

Leo meets Donald  - the major issues

  • A new role for Ireland: Trump's recent tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU look likely to start a trade war, but Mr Varadkar will try to change the US mindset.
  • Taxation: "I think what President Trump has done in many ways is emulated our tax policy, decided that it makes sense to have lower tax for business," says Mr Varadkar.
  • A new US ambassador: The position has been vacant since Kevin O'Malley left in early 2017.
  • The undocumented Irish: "New benefits, new protections, possible pathways to citizenship for Americans in Ireland" in return for the US doing something similar.
  • Gay rights: the vice-president will hold a breakfast meeting with the Taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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