Fáilte Ireland objected to wind farm after message from Varadkar

Taoiseach conveyed Trump’s concerns about Doonbeg to tourism body, records show

Speaking in New York, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defends conveying Donald Trump’s concerns about Doonbeg to Fáilte Ireland as “entirely within procedure”. Video: Suzanne Lynch

 

Fáilte Ireland raised concerns about a wind farm opposed by Donald Trump six months after the then minister for tourism Leo Varadkar passed on the billionaire’s objections about the project.

Fáilte Ireland’s report was among more than 40 objections and submissions made to Clare County Council about the Shragh Wind Farm near Doonbeg.

Planning records show the State tourism agency’s submission to the council on September 17th, 2014, mentioned the importance of Mr Trump’s resort to tourism in the area and argued the proliferation of wind farms in west Clare would “detract” from tourism.

“Within the locality of the development, Doonbeg Golf Club and resort is an attraction of note,” it was stated in a planning consultant’s report submitted by Fáilte Ireland.

More than six months earlier, the agency had received an email from Mr Varadkar after Mr Trump called him to raise concerns about the nine-turbine wind farm proposed on land 2km from the golf resort he had just bought.

Email sent by Leo Varadkar, then minister for tourism and sport, to Fáilte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn on February 24th 2014
Email sent by Leo Varadkar, then minister for tourism and sport, to Fáilte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn on February 24th 2014

The Taoiseach’s department released the email last night after Mr Varadkar corrected his recollection of the help he gave the US president during a speech in Washington on Thursday.

In remarks at a luncheon, he said he contacted Clare County Council endeavouring “to do what I could do” for Mr Trump.

On Friday, he said, after checking his records and with his staff, that he contacted Fáilte Ireland, not the council.

In Mr Varadkar’s email to Shaun Quinn, then chief executive of Fáilte Ireland on February 24th, 2014, he said Mr Trump was “concerned” about the project.

Planning applications

“I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of it but I did commit to asking Fáilte to review the planning applications or development plan for Clare as appropriate with a view to making observations if the agency shared his concerns about the impact on landscapes and tourism,” he wrote. “I would appreciate it if you could do so.”

Mr Varadkar said Fáilte Ireland was aware of the project before he contacted them. The agency’s submission to the council shows it raised concerns about a much larger version of the wind farm in 2013.

In Fáilte Ireland’s submission, planning consultant Ciara Kellett warned of the risks of the growing number of wind farms to tourism initiatives such as the Wild Atlantic Way.

Clare County Council refused permission for the wind farm the following month.

Michael Clohessy, director of Clare Coastal Wind Power, who wanted to build the wind farm, said he may consider legal action after Mr Varadkar “interfered” in the planning process.

‘Within procedure’

Speaking in New York, the Taoiseach defended his actions as “entirely within procedure”.

“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’s what any tourism minister should l do. If an investor raises an issue you should pass it on and that’s exactly what I did,” he said.

He said Fáilte Ireland is the tourism agency with a “statutory remit to look at planning applications”.

The Taoiseach denied he made a gaffe, saying the congressional lunch in Washington was “an occasion when people were telling anecdotes, telling stories and exchanging wit”.

Asked about his judgment, Mr Varadkar said it was “a humorous anecdote” about something that happened four years ago. “The humorous part of it was that the president was giving me praise for something that I did not actually do,” he told reporters.