Belfast Telegraph

Tanaiste defends minister's remarks

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has defended a Cabinet minister who suggested that members of the hard-pressed public should take a holiday.

With half a million people unemployed and claims of one-fifth of the population living in deprivation, tourism and transport minister Leo Varadkar said people should be able to afford a getaway next year.

The Department for Tourism also defended the comments, given they were made during a campaign aimed at promoting tourism at home.

"Minister Varadkar, among his responsibilities is tourism," the Tanaiste said. "And attending a tourism event yesterday I understand he made some remarks which were aimed at encouraging domestic tourism - that's what he does. That's part of his job."

A department spokesman added: "The minister was speaking at a function to promote domestic tourism, as the minister for tourism. It's part of his job to encourage people to take a holiday in Ireland, as this sector supports 180,000 jobs."

Mr Varadkar said the comments were taken out of context: "I was launching the Blue Book which promotes country houses and hotels around Ireland, and it's my job as minister for tourism to encourage people to take holidays in Ireland."

Mr Varadkar added that he understood why people were angered by his remarks.

"People are struggling with mortgages and mortgage debt, and incomes have gone down this year. It's my hope and aspiration that incomes will not go down this year," he said. "But tourism is a big part of our recovery and it's my job as minister for tourism to encourage people to take a home holiday."

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said that Mr Varadkar's comments were unacceptable.

"Minister Varadkar who, in a very, very brash and unacceptable manner, has said to the population at large to cheer up and to take a vacation," said Ms McDonald. "Perhaps he's telling them to take a hike."

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