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Taoiseach says he wasn't nervous ahead of Pence speech: 'I wanted to express Ireland's values'

Varadkar said he and Pence have very different views on social issues, but says it’s better to engage with people rather than boycott them.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Christina Finn reporting from Chicago 

THE TAOISEACH has said he wasn’t nervous ahead of giving his speech at the US Vice President’s house this week, stating that he wanted to be “respectful” while also expressing “Ireland’s values”.

Headlines in the international press were dominated by the Leo Varadkar’s breakfast meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, with chat show host Ellen Degeneres also expressing her joy at the Taoiseach taking his boyfriend to meet Pence.

Pence, who has been criticised for his views and his legislative record on LGBT rights, told Varadkar last year that his partner, Matt Barrett, would be welcome at his official residence at this year’s St Patrick’s breakfast. 

Speaking at the event – which was open to press, in a departure from last year – the Taoiseach gave remarks noting that in modern day Ireland politicians were judged not by their sexual orientation, “skin tone, gender or religious beliefs” but by their actions.

Nerves

When asked by reporters today if he was nervous ahead of giving the speech, the Taoiseach said no.   

“No I wouldn’t say I was nervous but I gave consideration about what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Ultimately Matthew and I were guests at his home so I wanted to make sure what I had to say was respectful. And I hope it came across that way.

“But at the same time expressing what are now Ireland’s values, that everyone is equal before the law regardless of their religion, or lack thereof, their gender, the colour of their skin, or who they love,” said Varadkar. 

When asked how did Matt feel about being there, the Taoiseach laughed, stating:

I don’t know, I didn’t ask him.
I don’t really bring him to official events, you know he has his own life and his own career, and doesn’t particularly enjoy coming along to events as my plus one unless maybe it’s a match or a concert or something like that.

But the Taoiseach said when he and Barrett got the invitation from the Pences “it was different”.

Matt wanted to accept the invite

“He felt that it was an invitation that he wanted to accept. I hope as well that they take up our invitation to come to Ireland. They’re a family with a really genuine Irish connection to Co Sligo and to Co Clare.

“And I think as we found during the various referendum campaigns in Ireland and the progress that we’ve made on women’s rights in particular that what helped to change Ireland was personal stories, people understanding the personal and human stories that are behind these issues,” he said, adding:

Unfortunately in America I think things are so polarized you know people watching different news channels, shouting at each other, refusing to engage with each other. Maybe we’ve done it a bit different in Ireland a bit better.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that Pence and Varadkar had not discussed the speech beforehand.

“We didn’t really discuss the speech but we had a good chat afterwards on different issues and I had the chance to meet him again in the White House.

“I met his brother who was recently elected to congress and his sister too.

“They are very nice people and certainly have made me feel welcome when I have been in DC. Obviously we have very different views on social policy but I think the best way to manage these things is to engage with people rather than boycotting them and that’s what I intend to do.”

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