Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach, has defended having a picnic with friends in a Dublin park in defiance of a recommendation from a senior government official.
A spokesperson for Varadkar issued a statement on Monday night saying he “broke no laws, breached no regulations and observed public health guidance” while picnicking in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.
The comment came after images appeared on social media showing the taoiseach with his partner, Matthew Barrett, and two friends near the park’s Wellington monument. Varadkar was in shorts and shirtless.
The outing appeared to contradict advice given in a media briefing last week by Liz Canavan, assistant secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach. She said: “If you’re visiting a public amenity try not to stay too long at the site or have picnics. Please do your exercise and then go home.”
Some commentators accused the taoiseach of being cavalier with lockdown rules and setting a bad example similar to Dominic Cummings.
The statement from Varadkar’s office on Monday night said phase one of Ireland’s lifting of lockdown restrictions allowed a group of four people to meet outdoors as long as they were within five kilometres (three miles) of home and maintaining physical distance.
“Government guidelines allow people to spend time in the outdoors within 5km of their home while continuing to observe social distancing and good hygiene. There are no specific government guidelines on eating outdoors or picnics.”
During the coronavirus pandemic Varadkar has lived at the state-owned Farmleigh Estate which is on the other side of the Phoenix park and within five kilometres of the Wellington monument.
The chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, said the images of the picnic appeared to show respect for the rules. “I didn’t see any pictures that are in violation of that involving the Taoiseach.”
Holohan was speaking at a media briefing on Monday that showed no reported deaths from Covid-19 for the first time since 21 March. The total reported death toll is 1,606. There were 59 new cases, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 24,698.
“The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed Covid-19 as a country,” said Holohan.
Varadkar called it a day of hope.
Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar)
Significant milestone today. First day with no reported #CoVid19 deaths since March 21st. This is a day of hope. We will prevail.