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Leo Varadkar's spokesman defends visit to male-only religious site in Ethiopia

Leo Varadkar visited the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum on Friday

A SPOKESMAN for the taoiseach has defended his visit to a 'male-only' monastery site in northern Ethiopia while female members of his staff were forced to wait outside.

Leo Varadkar visited the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum on Friday.

But his aide de camp Caroline Burke, the Irish ambassador Sonja Hyland and assistant secretary in the Department of the Taoiseach, Helen Blake, were told by staff at the complex that they could not enter.

The historic monastery is where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believes the Ark of the Covenant is stored.

A spokesman for the taoiseach said the monastery "sets its own access code and has done so for hundreds of years".

"Like many churches, convents, temples and mosques, they have rules about who may enter and how they should dress," he said.

"It is appropriate to respect the rules and customs of different cultures and religions especially when you are in their countries, holy places or homes.

"The taoiseach and Irish government imposes no such rules when it comes to properties owned by the Irish State and does not support such rules."

Mr Varadkar returned to Ireland on Saturday after a week-long overseas visit.

He met members of the Irish Defence Forces who are training the Malian Army and saw projects funded by Irish Aid in Ethiopia.

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