By James Ward, PA
The Taoiseach has defended Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attendance at a UK music festival, saying he is “entitled” to his private time.
Mr Varadkar faced criticism from the live entertainment industry after he was pictured attending the Mighty Hoopla festival in London at the weekend, at the same time the Electric Picnic was scheduled to take place.
Last week, organisers of Electric Picnic confirmed the festival will not go ahead this year despite the planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Varadkar’s attendance was described as “tone deaf” by Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon.
On Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin brushed off criticism of his coalition partner, saying it was a matter for Mr Varadkar.
He told reporters: “First of all, I think what the Tánaiste does in his private time is a matter for the Tánaiste.
“I don’t intend to comment one way or the other in relation to that, or in relation to any other individual who have their private time for themselves.”
He added: “I’ve made my position clear on this. I have a particular view of these things and my view is that the Tánaiste, in his private time, is entitled to do — that’s it. It’s a matter for him.”
The Taosieach did not answer when asked if he would have attended such an event.
“I have made my comment, and I’m not going to add any further to it,” he said.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris also defended his party leader, on a visit to Cavan and Monaghan on Monday.
He said: “Before nine o’clock this morning, the Tánaiste had met Michael Gove in the UK.
“The Tánaiste is leading a trade mission from London to Paris to Berlin. I believe it’s the first Enterprise Ireland trade mission since the pandemic.
“I don’t need to tell anybody here in a border county of Cavan and Monaghan how important it is that we get back to those trade missions, particularly in the context of Brexit and rebuilding after Covid.
“Leo Varadkar has an extraordinarily busy week in the UK, in Paris, and in Berlin.
“He took some downtime in the UK before that trip kicked off, and I think everyone’s entitled to a day off and a bit of down time, even the Tánaiste of our country.”
Responding to the criticism at the weekend, a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: “The Tánaiste is currently in the UK on private time where such events are allowed.
“Festivals and concerts are permitted in Ireland from Monday. The Tánaiste is one of the strongest supporters of the events industry in Government.
“He supported Electric Picnic going ahead and helped secure the reopening plan for concerts and other big events beginning on Monday, with capacity limits and vaccination certificate, moving to full capacity next month.”
But workers in the sector were clearly unhappy at Mr Varadkar’s attendance at the festival, which included performances from Cheryl, Atomic Kitten and Alexandra Burke.
Mark Graham, who produces the Irish Music Industry Podcast, said: “Angry? Please let him and his colleagues who have crippled our entertainment industry know.”
Festivalgoers were required to provide proof of vaccination, or a PCR or lateral-flow test taken 48 hours before arrival.
The non-segregated event had a capacity of 25,000 this year.