Ireland has big problem with alcohol, Varadkar tells FG summit

Indisputable that other states spend less and have better health services, says Taoiseach

Most people have done things they regret when intoxicated.

Most people have done things they regret when intoxicated.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there is something seriously wrong with the way the State runs and organises the health service.

He said Ireland had a big problem with alcohol which contributes to crime, road deaths, child abuse and domestic violence.

In a searing criticism of the health sector, Mr Varadkar said it was indisputable that other countries spend less and provide better health services than Ireland.

He said the Government may introduce laws that force employers in the private sector to publish comparable figures on pay for male and female employees, as a means of addressing the gender pay gap.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at a question-and-answer session with Fine Gael members at the party’s national conference in the Slieve Russell hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

He said he was determined to have the law designed to reduce national alcohol intake passed by Christmas. Arguing that there was a societal problem with alcohol, he said he wished to see the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill passed and implemented before the end of the year.

Three major actions

In response to other questions, Mr Varadkar said the Government was taking three major actions to ensure problems surrounding the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry, Co Galway were not repeated in future.

Mr Varadkar accepted the Government had run into particular problems in Athenry, after the proposal was challenged in the courts by objectors.

He said the first Government action was to amend planning laws this year to designate data centres as critical strategic infrastructure, in the same way as roads. That designation allows fast-tracking of the planning process.

He said the second action was the development of a new national policy on data centres, one of the grounds on which the court case was taken.

Thirdly, he said, retired High Court judge Peter Kelly was conducting a study on how court procedures could be speeded up, particularly in relation to judicial review cases.

“Once judicial review cases ar taken, things can get stuck in the courts for years and for months. We do not want to see projects like this stuck in the courts for too long. It is something we have to fix,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Ireland has a big problem with alcohol, which contributes to crime, road deaths, child abuse and domestic violence. File photograph: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Ireland has a big problem with alcohol, which contributes to crime, road deaths, child abuse and domestic violence. File photograph: Getty Images

“We can’t have a situation where important projects are lost to Ireland because of delays in our own planning process,” he added.

Extend legal aid

In response to other questions, Mr Varadkar said Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was working on a plan to extend legal aid to victims of domestic violence.

“This will give access to legal aid without too much [red tape] so that victims will know they will have a lawyer or solicitor on their side.”

He said the law already provides that the perpetrator of domestic violence leaves the home, but the Government wants to ensure this happens in reality.

Asked about the Fair Deal scheme for older people, Mr Varadkar said he was concerned that some people were going into nursing homes a little too soon because the requisite services were not in place.

He said that Fair Deal works, although it needed some tweaks.

Mr Varadkar also said he was committed to retaining Ireland’s military neutrality.

He said the Government would have to wait and see details of an EU proposal for more defence co-operation before committing to it. The proposal is due to be discussed by the end of 2017.

He said he did not want to do anything that would compromise Ireland’s military neutrality.

He said neutrality actually made Ireland “more powerful around the world – as we are not connected to a military alliance”.