TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has said he will push for a “more ambitious” relaxation of public health restrictions and reopening of society this summer, saying that “an abundance of caution should not be an excess of it”.
n the wake of the murder of Ashling Murphy this week he also told a private Fine Gael gathering that Justice Minister Helen McEntee will be bringing forward a new strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in the next few weeks, and said men need to recognise that violence against women is never justified.
Mr Varadkar told the gathering of Fine Gael TDs, senators and councillors that Ireland has had “among the toughest restrictions in Europe” over the last two summers and that this year should be different.
“I supported those restrictions, as did Fine Gael. In the summer of 2020, we had no vaccines. In the summer of 2021, most of us were not fully vaccinated,” he told the online meeting.
“But that’s not the case anymore and that’s why summer 2022 should be different. We in Fine Gael will be arguing for a more ambitious re-opening, not reckless or risky but rather one that is in line with our European peers.
“Ireland is the only country, that I am aware of, where it hasn’t been possible to stand in a pub or go to your workplace if you wanted to for almost two years. We have had among the toughest and longest restrictions on the arts, sport, music and nightlife.
“It’s been really hard on those who work in those sectors and for those for whom culture or sport is a passion. We need to restore these personal freedoms as soon as it is safe to do so, and no later. It is right to be cautious, but an abundance of caution should not be an excess of it.”
Mr Varadkar said that by any objective measure Ireland had performed better in the fight against Covid-19 than almost any other country in Europe.
“Whether it’s deaths per million, case fatality ratio, the percentage of people vaccinated or the number of people in hospital today, we have done better than almost any country in Europe,” he said.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Varadkar said that Fine Gael ministers would be examining ways to reduce inflation across 2022 and 2023, saying that the cost of childcare and healthcare need to be reduced as they are “an outlier when it comes to both in a European context”.
“We also need to reduce the cost of education for students and we need to continue to deliver tax, welfare and pension packages in each Budget that help to counteract the rising cost of living,” he said.
“The last Budget set the standard, not the ceiling. This is very much part of Fine Gael’s mission for 2022. Those bread and butter issues that we are best on. The changes people feel in their pocket in the positive way.”
On housing, Mr Varadkar gave a strong signal that he wants the Central Bank to adjust mortgage lending rules, saying he hoped it would “give further consideration” to recognising that many potential first-time buyers who are now renting could afford a mortgage but cannot afford to raise a deposit because of high rents.
Speaking about the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore this week, Mr Varadkar said that Justice Minister Helen McEntee will be bringing forward a new strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in the next few weeks.
“It’s about protecting victims, making sure perpetrators are caught, and how we as a society can come together, make sure we are not bystanders and oppose violence of any sort against women,” he said
“For men, we need to understand, and to teach our boys, that violence against women is never justified. It doesn’t matter who she is, where she was, what she was doing and it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. It’s never justified. It’s always wrong.”