The president of the European Commission has described Ireland’s handling of the pandemic in the last six months as “exemplary”.
President Ursula von der Leyen praised the performance of the rollout of vaccines during her visit to Dublin.
Mrs von der Leyen met with Irish premier Micheal Martin on Friday to discuss Ireland’s plan for projects to be funded by the EU’s recovery package.
The Taoiseach and the president held a bilateral meeting at the Technological University Dublin, Grangegorman, where they discussed Covid-19 and vaccines, EU/UK relations and the commission’s new “fit for 55” package of measures to support climate action.
Ms von der Leyen said she looked at the “numbers and development” in Ireland over the last six months.
“Ireland is exemplary in the way it has approached this pandemic with all the difficulties we faced together and overcome together,” she said.
“An excellent performance (where) the delivery of vaccines is concerned and the response of this country, so I can only commend you.”
Asked whether she believes Ireland is an outlier in the EU due to its delay in reopening certain sectors, Mrs von der Leyen said there are common rules in Europe, including travel.
“But they have to be flexible insofar that they have to look at the specific epidemiological situation of a region,” she added.
The Covid certificate enables free movement, that was the important part and quick digital information, reliable and agreed by everybody.Ursula von der Leyen
“Therefore I welcome that Ireland has joined our Covid certificate.
“I just today had the opportunity to test it and it works fine.
“But all of our member states, and of course Ireland too, have always the possibility and responsibility to look at the individual regional epidemiological situation and then to adapt the approvals to that situation.”
She added: “With the Delta variant it is most important that we are vigilant of the development of the epidemiological situation.
“All over Europe it’s not the similar situation in all regions and therefore public health safety (is) first.
“The Covid certificate enables free movement, that was the important part and quick digital information, reliable and agreed by everybody.
“But the individual epidemiological situation has to be respected in different regions too.”
During their meeting, Mrs von der Leyen formally endorsed Ireland’s plan to spend its EU funding.
Mr Martin said: “At its heart is the historic 750 billion euro next-generation package to support Europe’s economic recovery and drive the climate and digital transformations on which our future wellbeing and prosperity rely.
“I welcome the positive endorsement of our plan by the European Commission.
“It is focussed on three key priorities; advancement of the green transition; accelerating and expanding digital reforms and transformation; and supporting social and economic recovery and job creation.
“Ensuring our people have the skills they need for the future is a vital part of this renewal.
“Technological University Dublin, where we are today, is the first institution in the state to be designated with technological university status.
“It is being built as a digital-first organisation.”
The leaders also discussed the surge of the Delta variant as well as the progress of the vaccination programme.
The Taoiseach said that more than 500 million vaccines have been rolled out across the EU.
“We need to remain cautious and vigilant as we move to reopen our economies and societies,” he added.
Mr Martin later urged the public to be “careful” over the coming weeks, adding that “personal behaviour matters”.
“We want to protect the progress we have made for reopening society,” Mr Martin said.
“The Delta variant is here, there will be an increase in numbers,
“I’ve been watching very carefully the impact on hospitalisation and ICUs and I’m in regular contact with health authorities and the HSE.
“I would say to people that it’s important to get your vaccines. It does offer us protection individually but also protects your loved ones.”
Asked whether the public should follow Dr Tony Holohan’s advice to parents to dine only outdoors with their children, Mr Martin urged people to “keep everything in perspective”.
He said it was not the “make or break issue”.
“The issue is a highly transmissible variant,” he added.
“We’ve been widely slow and cautious in reopening and have reopened under careful guidelines.”
He also said that Government will bring in the use of antigen testing at a later stage of opening up society.