Tanaiste defends Varadkar comments about taking holidays despite the economic crisis
TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has defended a Cabinet minister who claimed that the hard-pressed public need not worry about the economic crisis and should take a holiday.
With half a million people unemployed and claims of one fifth of the population living in deprivation, Tourism and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that people should be able to afford a holiday next year.
Mr Gilmore said: "Minister Varadkar, among his responsibilities is tourism.
"And attending a tourism event yesterday I understand he made some remarks which were aimed at encouraging domestic tourism - that's what he does. That's part of his job."
However, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar's comments were unacceptable.
"Minister Varadkar who, in a very, very brash and unacceptable manner, has said to the population at large to cheer up and to take a vacation," said Ms McDonald.
"Perhaps he's telling them to take a hike."
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald also defended her party colleague, saying he fully understands the pressures families are under.
"He is Minister for Tourism and he was at a tourism event so he was promoting holidays, obviously," she said.
"Everyone around the Cabinet table understands the pressure on families and the need for us to be very careful with our decision making and that the Budget is seen to be fair and protect the vulnerable."
The Tourism Minister was not present in the Dail when the Tanaiste defended his coalition counterpart.
Ms McDonald remarked: "I don't see him here. Perhaps he's on a weekend break."
The Consumers' Association has claimed Mr Varadkar is living in a world of make-believe.
Mr Varadkar's controversial comments were made at the launch of a Tourism Ireland 2012 marketing campaign at the Convention Centre in Dublin yesterday.
His remarks were made just days ahead of the 2012 Budget when the Government is expected to announce a 2pc VAT hike while speculation remains that child benefit is in line for cuts.
"Incomes will remain untouched," Mr Varadkar said.
"The only people whose pay is being cut are ministers and senior servants. That means incomes will be the same next year.
"You'll have to pay €100 for your house and 2pc on a new TV or fridge, but that's it. That means people will be able to take a holiday, which they might not have been able to afford this year."
Mr Gilmore insisted that the Government takes the extent of the country's unemployment crisis seriously.
"We don't think everything is okay," the Tanaiste said.
"We inherited a country that was broken, we inherited public finances that were broken, banks that were broken and the morale of the public was broken.
"We have a huge number of people who are out of work. That in turn is related to the huge problem of the people who are living in poverty.
"This Government is determined to deal with that issue."
In a statement, the Department for Tourism said it stood by Mr Varadkar's comments given the context in which they were made.
"The minister was speaking at a function to promote domestic tourism, as the Minister for Tourism," a spokesman said.
"It's part of his job to encourage people to take a holiday in Ireland, as this sector supports 180,000 jobs."