Another year without Christmas parties for Government, says Varadkar

Tánaiste says Johnson ‘didn’t break his word to me’ but refuses to comment on party controversy

  Tánaiste Leo Varadkar at the  launch of  the new production facility at the plant in BD Drogheda. Photograph:  Maxwells

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar at the launch of the new production facility at the plant in BD Drogheda. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said it will be “another year without Christmas parties” for Government departments here.

He made the remarks while declining to comment on the controversy engulfing British prime minister Boris Johnson over allegations a party was held in Downing Street during lockdown last December.

Mr Varadkar also said that details of enhanced financial supports for pandemic-impacted hospitality and live entertainment businesses may be announced as early as Wednesday evening.

Mr Johnson has apologised after a video surfaced showing his staff laughing and joking about a gathering in Downing Street during a Christmas Covid lockdown last year when such festivities were banned.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday that he had been furious to see the clip and that since allegations emerged in the media he had been repeatedly assured that there had not been a party in Downing Street.

He told the House of Commons he had asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and report back and said: “It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”

At a press conference in Drogheda, Mr Varadkar was asked if he had advice for Mr Johnson and if he had found the British prime minister to be a man of his word in his dealings with him on Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said he had no advice for Mr Johnson and he did not want to comment on the controversy.

He said: “I can only answer that with respect to my personal experience and in my dealings with him what he said to me stood.

“He didn’t break his word to me. But I am aware that other people have had a different experience.”

Mr Varadkar was asked if he could offer reassurance that there were no Christmas parties envisaged in Government here.

He said: “I’m not aware of any Christmas parties organised. Unfortunately, this year looks like it’s going to be another year without Christmas parties.

“That’s sad but unfortunately that’s the way it has to be. We are seeing in Spain, in Norway, in other countries in the European Union very significant outbreaks at Christmas parties and workplace parties and that’s further evidence as to why they can’t go ahead.

He said small gatherings can still go ahead saying it is possible for four households meet up in a person’s home and to have dinner, lunch or drinks with six people in hospitality settings.

On Friday, Mr Varadkar said there would be a reformed Covid Response Support Scheme (CRSS) to help businesses impacted by renewed Covid-19 restrictions.

Previously the CRSS was only paid to businesses that had to close or saw a 75 per cent reduction in turnover.

It will now be accessible to businesses that are hit by the restrictions but do not have to close and there is expected to be a lower eligibility threshold.

The terms and conditions of expanded eligibility are being worked on by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe who is looking at raising the weekly €5,000 cap. Mr Varadkar said he expected proposals for enhanced supports to be ready for a decision on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

He said: “We are trying to get it right.

“There is a Government decision made already that allows him a degree of flexibility around the things that the business are concerned about, which is you know the cap for example in the turnover rule.”

He said the Government wanted to target the financial support to those companies that needed it the most in the hospitality, events and arts sectors.

He said that even if the money was not released until next week or the week after it would be backdated to the date when the restrictions were imposed.

“It’s coming and I want to reassure people in the sector that that this financial support is coming their way.”