Minister Damien English has defended the essential and non-essential retail list insisting it was not confusing, despite Miriam O’Callaghan pointing out she can “buy a bottle of wine, but not socks for my son”.
“Socks come under clothes, Miriam. Clothes are not essential,” the Minister of State for Employment Affairs and Retail Businesses said while speaking on Prime Time after the RTÉ presenter branded it “a bit mad”.
“I would regard them as essential,” Ms O’Callaghan said laughing, with Minister English adding, “And Vincent [Jennings, Chief Executive of the Convenience and Newsagents Association] would regard a book as essential - everyone has their own view on this. The whole aim behind this is to discourage the movement of people as much as possible.”
This morning, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said Minister Damien English had let himself down on last night's TV show.
“I think Mr English let himself down,” Mr Gannon said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
The TD added that he believes clothes are essential, saying: “I think in terms of the large supermarkets in the first lockdown you’d be walking around Tescos and you can get your food items but there’s also an aisle there where you can pick up your socks and t-shirts.
“There’s absolutely no point in closing those aisles at the minute. In terms of how we make it fair we have to make it sensible. And I think closing down certain aisles in supermarkets where you can pick up socks and t-shirts there is no point in closing them down.
“They have the capacity for ventilation and they can apply social distancing manners. That’s not the case in every shop but for the large outlets that they should be able to.”
This came after Mr Jennings confirmed small retailers were “being put on notice” to not sell things such as books, stationary, cards and wreaths.
“We are essential retailers and deemed to be so as we are selling food and beverages, newspapers and there were no problems up until now. But recently we are getting calls from people saying they are on notice from their local gardaí. They’re being told to tape over them or take them down and cease selling them.
“It’s not being applied across the board - I’m being contacted by other retailers within the same area who have not been visited at all and are selling the same products. We’re looking for consistency here.
“Someone is going to have to define what is an essential good to me. If someone buys a wreath to leave at the grave of a loved one as we approach All Souls Month; to some people that is a very important thing. We have to be sensible in this, and fair.”
Minister English replied: “Again, the virus is not fair.” He said the restrictions were temporary in nature and were in place to protect the public.
“I know how frustrating it is for retailers but it is temporary and there is a list there that says what is essential and what isn’t. It is not confusing, I think we have had these discussions with retailers on numerous occasions now.”
Independent TD Michael McNamara questioned the necessity of the restrictions and said:
“Thankfully, in each of the last seven days the cases have been lower than the corresponding days last week. Last Wednesday, Philip Nolan, the head of the modelling team in Nphet, said it would be three weeks before we would see an impact of Level 5 restrictions unless people had already changed their behaviour.
“Well, if people have already modified their behaviour, then why are we shutting down retail and putting 55,000 people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
“At some point we have to trust people to make up their minds as to what is essential.
“I can understand that ordinarily pyjamas are not essential, but I had an email this week from a lady preparing to go into the Maternity Hospital in Limerick and wanted to get pyjamas in advance and couldn’t, and she was annoyed.
“We do have to trust people at some point and I am not convinced this is a good use of garda time policing this.”
Deputy McNamara also said when retail is moved online, it forces local businesses to compete with multinational giants and it siphons money out of the Irish economy.
“The worry about this is a lot of retail is now being directed online and we know when that happens, a lot of the retailers are large conglomerates not based in Ireland, not paying taxes or employing people in Ireland.”
Mr English said there was a little wiggle room in certain scenarios and “there are rules but we do see common sense and there is a little bit of discretion there but we have to try to protect people.”