herald

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Leo takes partner Matt to meet vice-president - but not to White House bash

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Mike and Karen Pence during his visit to the White House last year
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Mike and Karen Pence during his visit to the White House last year

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be accompanied by his partner Matt Barrett when he meets the conservative US vice-president Mike Pence in Washington today.

Later, Mr Varadkar will have talks in the Oval Office with president Donald Trump on Brexit and undocumented Irish immigrants.

The day will start with the breakfast meeting with Mr Pence in his residence at the US Naval Observatory.

There was controversy last year when the event was closed to the media, but reporters will be all-owed in today.

Mr Varadkar confirmed last night that Mr Barrett will attend the breakfast with him.

"He was able to get time off work and make the journey, so he'll be taking up the invitation from Mike and Karen Pence to attend," he said.

Mrs Pence will not be present as she is in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics.

Dr Barrett will not be part of the traditional shamrock ceremony in the White House.

Mr Varadkar is one of very few openly gay leaders. Dr Barrett is a cardiologist who has spent time working in the States.

Mr Pence has previously faced criticism for his conservative views on LGBT issues.

Mr Varadkar discussed equality and LGBT rights in Ireland and America with him last year.

Gesture

At the time, Mr Pence extended the invitation for the Taoiseach and his partner to visit his home, which Mr Varadkar said was "a very nice gesture".

Asked about his talks with Mr Trump, the Taois- each said: "We're not asking anyone here in America to take sides between the UK and the European Union and Ireland. We know they will want to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK into the future.

"We also want to negotiate a free trade agreement between the US and the EU and would like to do that before there is any agreement with the UK."

He said it will be emphasised that protecting the Good Friday Agreement "has to be paramount."

Mr Varadkar added that it would be "very welcome" if Mr Trump is open to appointing a special envoy to Northern Ireland.

On his first day in Wash- ington, the Taoiseach had meetings with US and Irish business figures and attended the American- Ireland Fund dinner.

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