Saturday 21 September 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'Prayer is all that Trump's sidekick has to offer Leo'


Smile for the cameras: Mike Pence and his wife Karen meet Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett. Photo: REUTERS
Smile for the cameras: Mike Pence and his wife Karen meet Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett. Photo: REUTERS
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

By the time Mike Pence broke into prayer with the "traditional Irish blessing" found on touristy linen tea towels, Leo was looking as if he hoped the Rapture might possibly be so convenient as to kick off right there and then in the elegant ballroom at Farmleigh.

Wide-eyed and almost as waxen-faced as the US vice president himself, the Taoiseach's uncomfortable body language clearly signalled this bizarre moment was distinctly Not His Scene.

It's not the first time the long-lost American cousins have landed to be fed, watered and driven all around the country only to discover they have nothing in common with us besides some pesky DNA.

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And that, worst of all, they are too tight to buy so much as a cup of coffee.

There had certainly been some hopes that Pence, with his more than mystical links to this country, might be minded to be sympathetic towards the land of his forebears.

There were even - laughably enough, probably - feeble hopes that he might listen carefully to what his hosts were saying about Brexit and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

But while Pence once claimed to still hear his grandfather's "brogue" in his heart, listening clearly didn't come easy - even if the message came in a nostalgic 'Irish brogue'.

The only consolation is that we didn't have to put him up.

His boss Donald Trump generously suggested his place in Doonbeg. Though not for free, of course. God forbid.

Taxpayers in the US will cover the expenses of all government officials on the trip while Pence himself is paying for his wife Karen, his sister Ann Poynter and his mother Nancy Pence-Fritsch.

Back home, the Democrats were rather up in arms at the idea of US taxpayers' money being funnelled into a Trump enterprise.

Asked if Trump had suggested that Pence stay at the property, the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, said: "I think that it was a suggestion.

"It wasn't like a 'you must'. It wasn't like a 'you have to'."

Things started off well enough, with a visit to Áras an Uachtaráin, where Pence signed the visitors' book in tribute to his maternal grandfather.

"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 President Michael D Higgins stood, oddly silent, for photographs with their wives - Sabine in stylish pale pink and Karen Pence in a grey trouser suit.

In private, the President and vice president talked of "deep bonds", of global issues like climate change and the peace process in the North.

Then it was off to Farmleigh. There was a moment of farce as the Taoiseach and his partner Matt Barrett, mistaking the car, stood facing one direction before being taken by surprise by the Pences strolling up behind them.

It was a bit of a moment since it was the first time the Taoiseach's partner had been involved in an official welcome on home soil.

It just so happened the person being greeted is a deeply religious, born-again Christian with controversial views on LGBT rights.

With Leo's parents Miriam and Askok present, it was truly a family affair and things ran behind schedule.

Leo showed Nancy the military service record of her father, Richard Michael Cawley, who served in the Defence Forces during the Civil War.

Pence remarked how both he and Leo were fortunate to have "an Irish mother", perhaps forgetting he was in the very land of mammies.

Leo spoke of their "marvellous meeting" and all but pleaded with him to return to Washington with the message that peace was at risk in Northern Ireland.

But things turned distinctly awkward, as Pence urged Ireland and the EU to negotiate "in good faith" with Boris Johnson.

Leo's composure faltered somewhat.

Pence's rather firmly delivered ending prayer was merely the nail in the coffin of his hopes for this visit.

Irish Independent

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