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Leo Varadkar admits Fine Gael ‘not at its best' in recent weeks

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was speaking after he apologised to members for how he and other senior Fine Gael ministers handled the Katherine Zappone crisis. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Cate McCurry, PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he takes responsibility for a turbulent few weeks for his party.

The Fine Gael leader admitted the party has “not been at its best” in recent weeks following a number of controversies.

It comes after he apologised to members for how he and other senior Fine Gael ministers handled the Katherine Zappone crisis.

Speaking at the party’s “think-in” in Co Meath, the tánaiste vowed to “knuckle down” over coming months.

The Zappone affair has plagued the party for two months as information around the UN appointment was slowly fed to the public.

Mr Varadkar agreed that the party had suffered a number of own goals.

“That’s what my parliamentary party has said to me, it’s what party members and party supporters are saying to me – you know, they’re saying that we haven’t been at our best for the last couple of weeks,” he told Newstalk.

“But those of us who hold the leadership and senior positions in the party are partially responsible for that and they’re telling us now to regroup, to reset and rebound to knuckle down and concentrate on doing the people’s work for the next couple of months.

“That’s what we’re going to do, you know, this meeting is that opportunity – we as a parliamentary party haven’t met in person since July 2019.

“We’ve been experiencing what everyone else has working from home.”

Mr Varadkar said he could also understand the criticism he faced after attending a UK music festival at a time when the live entertainment sector in Ireland faced heavy restrictions.

He was pictured at the Mighty Hoopla festival in London at the weekend, at the same time the Electric Picnic was scheduled to take place in Co Laois.

He also said he was “rarely surprised” at controversies, adding he had been at the centre of a few.

“What I would say is that, when it comes to the events sector, I’ve been one of the strongest supporters of that sector around the Cabinet table,” Mr Varadkar added.

“I helped to secure 100 million in funding for the sector, and was a strong advocate for Electric Picnic going ahead.

“I can understand the criticism and I take that on board – what we have put in place is a plan to reopen the sector, events like concerts, conferences, exhibitions, big matches, all of those things are now happening again.

“Admittingly, there are restrictions around vaccine passes and capacity, and I suppose I took the view that attending an event while in London that would have been allowed pretty much two days later in Ireland perhaps wouldn’t lead to the controversy it did.

“But I can understand for people who have been shut down for 180 days that every day counts.”

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