Taoiseach says he inquired into Doonbeg wind farm after Trump call

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said his actions were 'normal' for a Government minister

Taoiseach says he inquired into Doonbeg wind farm after Trump call

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the Speaker's Lunch at Capitol Hill in Washington DC | Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 20:40

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has revealed he intervened in plans to build a wind farm in County Clare after a request from Donald Trump.

Addressing the the Speaker's Lunch at Capitol Hill as part of the St Patrick's Day celebrations, Mr Varadkar recounted a story when he was tourism minister on a trip to London.

Mr Varadkar said he got a call from Mr Trump, asking about proposals to build a wind farm near Doonbeg, where Mr Trump owns a golf resort.

The Taoiseach told the US president, Vice President Mike Pence and other US government leaders he thought it was a "piss-take."

Mr Varadkar said he did what he could.

"We actually had been in contact before - before the president became president and before I became Taoiseach - and it happened three or four years ago when I was Minister for Tourism.

"My assistant John Carroll said that there's a call, Donald Trump wants to speak to you.

"And I just thought this can't be the case - this has to be a piss-take by one of my staff members.

"Surely a businessman like Donald Trump would write a letter first and we'd organise a meeting - but as we all know President Trump doesn't work like that.

"He's a very, very direct man (and) likes to get things done.

"So at the other end of the phone was Donald Trump, saying to me that he'd bought this resort in Ireland in Co Clare - this beautiful golf resort called Doonbeg.

"But there was a problem nearby, somebody was trying to build a wind farm and that of course could have a real impact on tourism and the beauty of the landscape.

"So I endeavoured to do what I could about it, and I rang the county council and inquired about the planning permission - and subsequently the planning permission was declined - thus the landscape being preserved.

"And the president has very kindly given me credit for that - although I do think it probably would have been refused anyway.

"But I'm very happy to take credit for it if the president is going to offer it to me."

In a statement this evening Clare County Council noted that all "representations, objections and observations" made in relation to the planning application are available to view online.

It said there is "no representation by Leo Varadkar, the then minster for tourism and sport or any elected member" on the planning file. 

"Extraordinary"

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has expressed concern at the recounted incident.

He said: "The reports from Washington today that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made political representations essentially on behalf of the business interests of President Trump are extraordinary.

"The Taoiseach needs to make clear immediately the nature of these representations and if President Trump or a member of his family asked the Taoiseach to make them on his behalf.

"It would not be unusual for the Taoiseach of the day to make queries or representations on behalf of another nation when it comes to government business but planning matters surrounding Doonbeg are clearly a private business matter for President Trump.

"There are particularly sensitivities for obvious reasons around politicians making representations to planning authorities and for good reason too.

"For the Taoiseach to be seen to meddle and intervene on planning processes at Doonbeg is entirely inappropriate."

Banana Republic

Solidarity TD Mick Barry says the Taoiseach's comments are no laughing matter:

“I think it gives the impression that Ireland operates a bit like a banana republic,” he said.

“That you have got some billionaire businessman picks up the phone to an Irish Government Minister – and the Irish Government Minister jumps to it.”

Shocking

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan labelled it a “shocking admission from the Taoiseach.”

He said it “harks back to the very dark days in the Irish planning system, where political interference ensured that the rich and powerful got what they wanted.”

“There is no doubt that he exercised undue influence and undermined due process with his intervention,” he said. “It was and is completely inappropriate.”

“It is a shocking error of judgement.

“Clare County Council now need to outline who the Minister contacted and whether there is a record of what was said.”

Taoiseach's response

In a statement this evening, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said: “As Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar received a call from Donald Trump regarding a wind farm proposal near Doonbeg, which is a significant tourism asset on the west coast.”

“It is normal for Ministers to seek information on planning applications when issues are raised by citizens, businesses or investors.”

He said the matter “has been mentioned publicly on many occasions by the Taoiseach” adding that it “was not a court case or judicial matter.”

Additional reporting: Sean Defoe in Washington DC and Michael Staines