Search icon


30th Oct 2020

“Clothes are not essential,” says Minister for State discussing impact of Level 5 on retail sector

Conor Heneghan

To put any fears at ease, the Minister was wearing clothes at the time he made the point.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Damien English TD, said that “clothes are not essential” when discussing the implications of Level 5 of the government’s Living with Covid framework on the retail sector in Ireland.

English made the comments on Prime Time on RTÉ on Thursday night, on a day when both Aldi and Lidl confirmed they have postponed the sale of all non-essential products in their stores and removed all non-essential products currently on sale in their ‘middle aisles’.

The move followed pressure from the government and fears from business leaders that the sale of non-essential items could spark a campaign of disobedience of restrictions from other stores.

Tánaiste and Minister for Business Leo Varadkar had warned big supermarkets against “not lawful” practices and said that Gardaí would enforce the regulations outlawing the sale of non-essential items.

Discussing the rules for the retail sector under Level 5 on Prime Time, English said: “There is a list of what’s essential and not essential and it’s difficult for a mixed retail who is a bit of both.”

English denied the suggestion by host Miriam O’Callaghan that the rules were “very confusing,” saying: “No no, it’s not confusing, I think we’ve had this discussion on numerous occasions with the retail sector.”

Asked by O’Callaghan if “socks for your child” are essential, English replied: “Clothes are not essential, but again, there’s still, of course, in all situations, there’s a bit of common sense…”

When O’Callaghan interrupted to suggest that that “seems mad”, English responded by saying: “Again, what’s essential, what’s not essential?”

“The Gardaí are reinforcing the public health message, they’re helping us do our job, they’re engaging with the retail sector, they’re encouraging them to do the right thing and, to be fair, I recognise, the retail sector, they’re doing their best to get it right and if changes are needed, there’s been changes made.”

O’Callaghan then asked of English: “So I can buy a bottle of wine, but I cannot buy socks for my son?

“Socks come under clothes, Miriam,” English replied.

“Everyone has their own view on this,” he added.

“To be clear, what we’re trying to achieve here, OK, the whole aim is to discourage the movement of people as much as we possibly can.”

The list of retail outlets deemed essential in Ireland under Level 5 can be seen on the government website here.