Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
This is something I have spoken about before. As I understand it, the most recent advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is 2 m. The distance of 2 m is used in the United Kingdom and mostly across Europe as well. I see in other countries like Australia and New Zealand they are talking about 1.5 m. I see that the World Health Organization is talking about 1 m. This is under review. I think we all agree that getting the country going again would be far more practical, especially in schools and businesses, if it was 1 m rather than 2 m, but ultimately it is one of those things that is and should be a call for the Chief Medical Officer and the National Public Health Emergency Team. While the Government makes the decisions, I believe there are some things that are pure public health advice and this is one we have to defer to the team on. Having said that, I know the team considers evidence as it comes in and will be considering that matter as we go on.
In defence of the outgoing Government as it approaches the end of its term, we established the Department of Rural and Community Development with a capital budget of €1 billion. We can really see that taking shape now on the ground. Whether it is the town and village scheme, LEADER, CLÁR, rural recreation or greenways, we are really making a difference. We signed the contract for the national broadband plan. It had been promised forever but now it is actually happening. It is a €3 billion investment in rural Ireland. It is the biggest investment in rural Ireland ever connecting more than 500,000 homes, farms and businesses to fibre over the course of the coming six or seven years. That work is now under way. It will be rolled out to approximately 100,000 premises per year. It will take time to do but it is being done. I hope that the new Government will not cancel that contract but will honour it and ensure that it gets done. We got the road maintenance programme and the roads programme going again, including the local improvement scheme.
What we were unable to do - I admit this - was to protect the incomes of farmers, especially beef farmers. I very much regret that we were unable to do that but I believe that was largely due to factors well beyond our control.