Michael Healy-Rae questions Leo Varadkar on decision to postpone reopening of pubs to next month
In response, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “freedom pints” he was looking forward to next week would no longer be possible.
TD Michael Healy Rae used an analogy involving pints of Guinness and toasted cheese sandwiches when questioning the decision of the government to postpone the reopening of pubs in Ireland until 10 August.
During Leaders’ Questions in the Convention Centre on Thursday afternoon, the Kerry TD accused the government of having “pulled the rug out from underneath” publicans in rural areas with the decision to delay the reopening of pubs for another three weeks.
Referring to scenes earlier this month of crowds outside public houses in Dublin city centre that provoked public concern, Healy Rae opined that the situation in rural pubs, such as in his native Kerry, was different and that reopening pubs in those areas “absolutely would not have increased the occurrences of the virus”.
“You must remember there’s an awful difference between Dame Lane and Ballinskelligs,” Healy-Rae said.
“Or between Dame Lane and Portmagee, or any other part of the county that I represent.
“And what my point is, that I think you have really missed the bigger picture here in that by opening these pubs, you would not, absolutely would not have increased the occurrences of the virus.
“Because, can I ask you this question Tánaiste, and on the record I would like for you to explain to me this: What is the difference between a person inside in a public house with a pint of Guinness in this hand and a toasted cheese sandwich in this hand and a person inside in another pub with a pint of Guinness and no toasted cheese sandwich?
“Could you please give me the medical – you are a doctor – could you please explain to me why that poses a public health danger to that person drinking that pint and eating that sandwich or not?”
In response, Tánaiste Varadkar said he could understand what “a hammer blow” the news was to pubs and nightclubs throughout the country, but that the decision was based on NPHET advice following concern over the trajectory of the number of cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, which, he said, was “going in the wrong direction”.
“I don’t think I was the only person in this house who was looking forward to freedom pints next week but unfortunately that isn’t possible and it isn’t possible for a good reason,” Varadkar said.
“And that reason is because the incidence of the virus in Ireland has increased.
"It’s still very low, roughly 20 cases a day, four per 100,000, the eighth or ninth lowest out of 31 countries in Europe, but the trajectory was a matter of concern, it was going in the wrong direction.
“And that has not been largely due to international travel despite all the focus on it, it’s been 90% due to our own behaviours.”
Later in the conversation, Varadkar offered no guarantees that pubs would reopen on 10 August, but said that it would be “no sooner” than that date.
Whether pubs can reopen on 10 August “will depend on the numbers and how the virus behaves” between now and then, he added.