Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar dropped a major climate clanger in Washington this week, when boasting about intervening with Irish planning authorities on behalf of Donald Trump. The incident occurred in 2014, prior to Trump’s presidential run and when Varadkar was then Irish tourism minister.
Trump phoned him in a bid to thwart plans for a wind farm to be located near his newly purchased golf resort in Doonbeg, on Ireland’s western seaboard. Varadkar then phoned the local county council and “endeavoured to do what I could do about it”, he told a lunch event in Washington this week to mark St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday.
Permission for a nine turbine wind farm close to Doonbeg was subsequently refused. “I am very happy to take credit for it if the president is going to offer it to me”, Varadkar said this week.
Ireland’s Green Party condemned Varadkar’s intervention on behalf of Trump as having “privately interfered in the planning process”, a move it described as “a shocking error of judgement”. The Labour Party was equally scathing, describing Varadkar’s admission as “extraordinary”.
The incident is an embarrassment for the Irish government in what is usually a ‘good news’ trip to Washington for the annual Irish celebrations. Prior to his trip, Varadkar had spoken of the danger of the EU and US drifting apart on key issues, including Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate change, and suggested Ireland could act as a bridge to encourage the US to stick to its international commitments.
In January, Varadkar told the European Parliament that Ireland was an international “laggard” on climate action, adding that he was “not proud of Ireland’s performance”. The 2018 Climate Change Performance Index ranked Ireland as the worst performing country in the EU.
Ireland is on track to miss its binding 2020 EU emissions targets by a wide margin, partly due to the influence of a powerful agricultural sector lobby.
The Fine Gael-led government headed by Varadkar, despite having a ‘climate action’ minister, has been notably unenthusiastic on climate. As a result, Ireland faces what Varadkar called “some pretty major fines for not meeting our (EU) obligations”.
This week’s Washington blooper is a public reminder that when it comes to environmental issues, powerful lobbyists - be they domestic or international - can expect a warm Irish welcome from its senior politicians.
Varadkar has clarified his comment, saying he in fact contacted Fáilte Ireland — Ireland's Tourism Development Authority — after his conversation with Trump. The PM maintains that he was right to do so, as part of his role in the government at the time. He told reporters:
“I did what was entirely appropriate which was to pass on those concerns to the relevant statutory agency and I did so in writing. That is what any tourism minister should do.”
Image: Annika Haas (EU2017EE)/Flickr CC BY 2.0. Updated: 19/03/2018: An updated after Varadakar clarified his comments was added.