Taoiseach too busy over weather to worry about ‘egos of politicians’

Varadkar says inviting TDs to meet ambulance crews in Wexford ‘last thing on my mind’

Labour leader Brendan Howlin:  he said the Taoiseach “should not be churlish”. Photograph: Getty Images

Labour leader Brendan Howlin: he said the Taoiseach “should not be churlish”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he had been far too busy dealing with the national weather crisis to think of inviting TDs to join him when he met ambulance crews in Wexford.

“Upsetting the egos of politicians really has not been on my mind for the last couple of days,” he told Labour leader Brendan Howlin, when the Wexford TD said the Taoiseach had not invited Opposition TDs to meet him there, and that it was “all Fine Gael”.

Mr Varadkar said “I probably did not because it was the last thing on my mind”. He had been far to busy dealing with the weather crisis and Brexit “to organise invitations to Deputies personally in order that they felt included”.

He then said “I do genuinely apologise to the Deputy if his dignity was offended in any way by not being invited along to an ambulance base in his own constituency, a few metres from where his office is”.

Mr Howlin retorted that it was not about dignity, and the Taoiseach “should not be churlish”. It was normal when there was such a briefing “and a matter of courtesy, to invite key local representatives and others to attend. That is all I am saying.”

The tetchy exchanges took place as Mr Howlin raised questions about the need for employers and employees to know specifically what is expected of them “in the event of a declaration of a status red warning”.

Mr Howlin said in the middle of the crisis the Minister for Health “had to tweet a response countermanding a HSE memo on workers using annual leave to cover absences”.

He said Siptu had called for clear protocols to be put in place, and asked when the report on the review of Storm Ophelia would be published. “ What we need is clarity. These are no longer once-in-a-generation events, and we have had two in five months.”

Approaching conclusion

The Taoiseach said Twitter was a “very succinct and quick way to get a message across”. The review of Storm Ophelia was “approaching conclusion”, and would be “informed by the experience of the past week”.

Mr Varadkar said he believed the advice the Government had given in the past week “was clear and unambiguous”.

“However, the final decision must be left to employers themselves, who know their own business best, and who, in the vast majority of instances, will take the best decision that is in the interests of their staff.”

He had asked the Departments of Business and of Employment to continue to work together to review the guidelines.

However, he said “with regard to compelling employers to pay wages for staff over the days the employer had to close or where staff could not make it into work, I would be reluctant to propose a one-size-fits-all approach”.

“The vast majority of employers are responsible and want a good relationship with their staff, and vice versa.”