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'Some people may be snobbish': Leo Varadkar defends using Mean Girls quote in his Covid speech

Varadkar also cautioned about lifting air travel restrictions during the interview.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has defended his use of a quote from the movie Mean Girls during a speech where he outlined plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions, describing the criticism levelled at him as “snobbish”. 

On Friday, Varadkar gave an update on the latest plans to accelerate the roadmap once again from 29 June and to reopen some sectors earlier than anticipated, and quoted the line “the limit does not exist” from the movie. 

Many people took to social media, including opposition politicians, to criticise the quote and claimed that it was inappropriate to use when over 1,700 people to date have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. 

Asked about the criticism on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme this evening, Varadkar said: “I think any quote is appropriate if it’s appropriate in its context, whether it was written in a movie or by a poet. 

“It was the context of our emissions as a country and I know that some people may be snobbish about those things, that a quote from a movie is different to a quote from a poet or a great author… but I don’t see it that way.

“I think any quote, in any speech, is appropriate if it’s in context and I have used quotes from poets and other writers precisely to deal with the issue [of Covid].”

Varadkar previously employed quotes from singer Dermot Kennedy, poet Seamus Heaney, and Lord of the Rings writer JRR Tolkien during his speeches over the past three months. 

“There are nearly 2,000 people who have died on this island as a consequence of Covid and they have families who are grieving. There are 100,000 people out of work and I have used quotes that I identified with, that explains some of the feelings they are having and the darkness around that.” 

Asked if it is a distraction from the seriousness of Covid-19, he said “I think it is a distraction for some people but not for me”. 

Confidence

Varadkar also defended the acceleration of the Covid-19 roadmap to ease restrictions sooner than originally planned despite other countries which have already eased their restrictions – including European countries such as Germany – having to reintroduce them. 

“Think of where we’ve come [from]. Today, three deaths, sadly, but only a small number of new cases. The positivity rate in Ireland is 0.5%, it was 20%. So if we do 200 tests a day, only one is testing positive. 

“And also, we see the R0 number stay below 1. That’s despite the fact that we’ve done Phase 1 easing and we’ve done Phase 2 easing… and even still the positivity rate is falling and the R0 number is still below 1, so that gives me the confidence to say we can move to Phase 3.

Will there be local outbreaks? Will there be spikes? Yes, probably. Because that’s what we’ve seen in other countries.

“But what’s different now to three or four months ago is we have a robust testing and tracing system in place that will identify that quickly so we can stamp down on it quickly and any new measures that we have to reintroduce can be localised or specific to a sector.”

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Air travel

Earlier today, an interim report from the Taskforce on Aviation Recovery recommend that the current two-week quarantine requirement for all air passengers into Ireland be lifted by 1 July. 

It also recommended that the Government’s official advice to avoid all non-essential travel be lifted by that date. 

Transport Minister Shane Ross welcomed the recommendations and said he would give it priority consideration, while adding the final report from the group is not due for another two weeks. 

Varadkar this evening said “we need to be very careful and cautious about that” and pointed to a Cabinet sub-committee discussion on the issue which is due to take place tomorrow. 

“We’ve got our case load of this virus down so low now, so low that there is a real risk of reimporting it from countries where the virus is still very prevalent so I think if we’re going to open air travel between Ireland and other countries, we need to do it safely, and we also need to do it through air bridges.” 

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