Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has weighed in behind Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien by insisting his nine county tour of the country to promote regeneration grants is essential work.
Mr Varadkar said ministers are asked to consider if work-related travel is necessary in light of the country being under Level 5 restrictions.
However, Tánaiste said Mr O’Brien’s nationwide roadshow, which involves announcing funding under Urban Regeneration Development Fund (URDF) while meeting council officials and local politicians, should be deemed essential travel.
The Fine Gael leader said the minister is doing “great work” in his department and is entitled to visit nine different counties promoting funding for local projects even though the rest of the country is banned from moving 5km from their homes.
“Ministers are counted as essential workers and while it’s not happening very much, we are permitted to travel outside of our counties for essential work and that is what he's doing and it is done with all the precautions with social distancing and all the precautions that you'd expect to be in place,” Mr Varadkar told RTE Radio One’s ‘News at One’.
He said when ministers do deem travel essential it is “important that they make sure that they take all the precautions around, social distancing and minimising the number of people present at meetings and all of those things”.
Mr O’Brien has been accused of using the ministerial trip to promote his standing in Fianna Fáil ahead of a potential leadership contest. The minister has already made stops in his own constituency along with visits to Cavan and Longford where he met party colleagues and posed for photographs while announcing funding for local projects.
He is due in Galway and Sligo later this week and next week he is scheduled to travel to Carlow, Meath, Limerick and Cork where he will announce more regeneration. In Cork, he will attend an event along side Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said the only reason the minster needed to be in nine counties in the space of two weeks during the highest level of restrictions was if he was running for the leadership of his party.
The ministers’ tour has also raised eyebrows in Fine Gael as ministers in Mr Varadkar’s party have been reluctant to travel to promote their departments work.
However Clare TD Michael McNamara commended the minister for travelling the country during Level 5 restrictions.
"I applaud you for visiting areas of the country, I think a minister should know what's going on across all areas of the country," he said in the Dáil.
While urging Mr O'Brien to look at the issue of derelict buildings, he invited him to "come to Clare" to examine the widespread issue of abandoned buildings in the county.
Mr O’Brien’s spokesperson said the minister’s nationwide visits are being done in strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.