Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has apologised for making an apparent joke about Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky during an event in Washington on the eve of St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Varadkar’s comment on Thursday risked overshadowing his meeting with Joe Biden at the White House on Friday for the traditional handing over of a bowl of shamrock to the US president, the most important day in the Irish-American political calendar.
The taoiseach departed from a prepared script on Thursday when speaking to people involved in the Washington Ireland programme, which teaches career skills to young people. Reminiscing about his stint as a US House of Representatives intern in 2000, during the last year of Clinton’s presidency, Varadkar said it was a time “when some parents would have had cause for concern about what would happen to interns in Washington”.
The comment was widely viewed as a reference to Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky while she was a White House intern in the mid-1990s. Hours earlier Varadkar had shared a stage with Hillary Clinton at a separate event.
A spokesperson for Varadkar later apologised on his behalf: “He made an ill-judged, off-the-cuff remark which he regrets. He apologises for any offence caused to anyone concerned.”
The taoiseach is to meet and share platforms with the Clintons when they visit Ireland next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. Biden also plans to visit.
Senior Democrats this week urged Democratic Unionist party (DUP) figures visiting Washington to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland in the wake of the Windsor framework, saying it had addressed the party’s concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, expressed hope that the Stormont institutions would be swiftly revived. Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said the DUP should “get to the people’s business, the business of power sharing and self-governing”.
The DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, rebuked Schumer, telling Sky: “I would urge the senator to read some history books. Maybe he’d learn a little bit more about what really happens and the reality of the situation.”
Hilary Clinton increased the pressure on the DUP when she urged assembly members who opposed the Windsor framework to resign and allow the others to revive Stormont.
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