US VICE PRESIDENT Mike Pence confirmed he is planning to visit Ireland on Thursday as he recalled his Irish roots in a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Washington DC.
Mr Pence, whose grandparents emigrated from Co. Clare and Co. Sligo, also expressed his solidarity with Ireland over the ongoing Brexit crisis ahead of St Patrick's Day celebrations in the United States.
Welcoming Mr Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett to a breakfast meeting at his Number One Observatory Circle private residence, Mr Pence said the US "stands with the Republic" and that America "looks forward to expanding trade" with Ireland.
The 59-year-old VP has been been a vocal critic of gay marriage and LGBT rights in the past, which lead to intense media interest during his first meeting with the Taoiseach last year.
Honored to welcome the Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar to the Vice President’s residence for breakfast this morning to begin St. Patrick’s Day weekend. pic.twitter.com/igii8oQbWQ
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) 14 March 2019
But speaking about growing up gay in Ireland today, Mr Varadkar said: "I knew at the time that I lived in a country where, if I tried to be myself at the time, it would have ended up breaking laws, but today that is all changed.
"I stand here, leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs."
Mr Pence said he had received an invitation for an official visit to Ireland and was arranging a trip there on one condition — that he bring along his mother, Nancy.
The former Governor of Indiana's grandfather Richard Michael Cawley came from Tubercurry in Co. Sligo, while his grandmother Mary Elizabeth Maloney was born in Doonbeg, Co. Clare – where President Donald Trump coincidentally owns a golf resort.
"I am happy to report that I have spoken with my mom, a first-generation Irish American and mother-of-nine, and she has now confirmed that she will travel with me and we are making plans to return to my grandfather's homestead as we speak," added Pence.
Vice President Mike Pence invited me and Matt to his home at the Naval Observatory this morning. It’s great to be back here for a really warm reception. pic.twitter.com/Wkh2Ic8lWP
— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) 14 March 2019
"People often ask me what I felt on Inauguration Day when I raised my right hand... as I looked out at that vast throng of Americans and took that oath, I thought about my grandpa.
"He was proud to be an American, but I can still hear that Irish brogue in my heart when my grandfather used to talk about the old country and his home across the pond. His love for the Irish people, his love for the Irish heritage is bone marrow deep."
Mr Pence has previously spoken about spending summers in Ireland as a child and once recalled cutting turf and saving hay in Clare and Sligo.
Mr Varadkar replied: "I really hope you will be able to accept my invitation to Ireland very soon and I can guarantee you a very warm welcome is waiting for you, especially in Co. Sligo and Co. Clare from where your forebears come.
"And you absolutely must bring your mother."
The Taoiseach will meet with President Trump in the White House later today.