Last year, the Irish prime minister was welcomed by the U.S. president and vice president with open arms — and with open coverage by reporters — ahead of the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
But this year, Vice President Mike Pence’s breakfast with new Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will be closed to the media — at the request of the vice president. In a departure from the recent past, reporters were told Friday’s event to be attended by Pence and Varadkar will be private and the media won’t be invited.
Pence also had a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in March 2017 with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister at the time. The difference this year could possibly be Varadkar’s visibility as an openly gay man as well as Pence’s long record of opposing issues important to the gay and lesbian community.
People are speculating whether issues such as gay and lesbian rights and Pence’s stance on gay-conversion therapy might be discussed at their meeting. For instance, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group, sent a tweet questioning the motive for banning the media from the Pence-Varadkar event.
That the request for a private meeting came from the Pence camp, as reported by Irish media, was confirmed Thursday by a source at the White House. Pence and Varadkar had both been in attendance at three meetings Thursday in Washington that were open to the media.
Alyssa Farah, press secretary for Pence, released a statement Thursday about the Friday breakfast:
“The Vice President and the Prime Minister met and spoke together at multiple events today. Tomorrow’s informal breakfast is setup like every breakfast the Vice President has had with a foreign leader following their meetings at the White House.
“The press will be in attendance to cover the Prime Minister’s arrival and the Vice President greeting him.”
The media, however, will not be allowed inside the vice president’s residence to cover the breakfast.
According to the Irish Examiner, Varadkar said he would have preferred that his meeting with Pence would be open to the public, but added that a private session may allow for more “frank conversation.”
Varadkar who is the taoiseach of Ireland — a role which comprises the titles of prime minister, chief executive and head of government — also is the first Irish government minister of Indian descent. He took office in June.
Last year, Kenny joined the vice president for an open breakfast with several dozen other invited people, before meeting later in the day with the president in the Oval Office.
But this year, Varadkar and Pence will have the breakfast event in private at the vice president’s residence on Friday morning, a day after Varadkar’s meeting with Donald Trump.
Pence, who is of Irish descent, and his wife, Karen, spoke to the media at last year’s festivities, where Pence expressed his excitement over being able to invite a “special guest to the White House” — in reference to Kenny.
But it’s different this year — and Varadkar’s comments in recent days to the media may be a reason why.
When asked whether he would talk to Pence about the vice president’s stance on gay-conversion therapy, Varadkar told an Irish publication, TheJournal.ie, on Wednesday that if given the chance he would talk about “the wider issue” of gay rights.
“I am told Vice President Pence is not a supporter of conversion therapy even though some people have mentioned he is,” Varadkar said, according to TheJournal.ie. “But I imagine I will have the opportunity, I am going to be meeting him over breakfast on Friday morning, so if I have the opportunity I will certainly be mentioning the wider issue of equal rights and freedoms for LGBT citizens.”
U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon accused Pence of being a supporter of gay-conversion therapy in an interview with USA Today in the days leading up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The issue of gay-conversion therapy has dogged Pence since a statement was posted on his campaign website during his run for Congress in 2000. Gay-conversion therapy is a now-discredited practice that once used psychiatric treatments — and electric shocks — to try to persuade a person to change his or her homosexual orientation.
Although it doesn’t use the words “conversion therapy,” gay rights groups say the wording used by Pence nearly two decades ago is language that both supporters and opponents of the practice would recognize as a clear reference.
Here’s what the campaign statement said in part: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Pence’s office later said the campaign statement from 2000 was meant to indicate support for groups promoting “safe sexual practices.”
“The vice president has never supported conversion therapy and doesn’t support it now. Any reports to the contrary are patently false,” spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in February. “He’s been abundantly clear on the matter.”
But Pence, who previously has suggested homosexuality is a choice, declined to say whether or not he believes conversion therapy has merit.
A religious conservative