By Carmel Hayes
“IT sounded like we had leprosy in Laois.”
Fine Gael councillor Willie Aird made the remark at an emergency meeting of Laois County Council this afternoon.
At a meeting hastily convened after the shock imposition of Covid-19 restrictions last Friday, Cllr Aird said the instruction to people from other counties not to stop in Laois was particularly devastating.
He said: “The worst thing I heard on the radio was when it was announced to drive through the county and not stop. It sounded like we had leprosy in Laois.”
The Portlaoise representative was among a number of councillors who called for urgent supports for tourism and enterprise at the emergency meeting today.
Ironically, the semi-lockdown was imposed just weeks after Laois Tourism launched a massive “You’re welcome” campaign, in a bid to boost visitor numbers to the county.
Cllr Conor Bergin (FG) said he had a big issue with the fact that people from other counties were asked not to stop in Laois.
He said: “Laois is the most landlocked county in Ireland and we are almost a crossroads between Dublin, Cork and Limerick. People are travelling through Laois to go on their holidays and we have two major service stations along the motorways here, which are operating proper social distancing measures and all the Covid-related checks that go with operating successfully now.
“There is no evidence that Covid is spreading in service stations and places like this in Laois. I think the message needs to go out, when all of this is over, that Laois is a place to do business and Laois is a place to stop.”
Minister of State Seán Fleming (FF) agreed that Laois has suffered “reputational damage” as a result of the partial lockdown. He said he had made a strong case to his colleagues in Government regarding the county’s need for additional supports.
Minister Fleming told the emergency council meeting that he has been speaking to ministerial colleagues in the Department of Finance, regarding business supports in the county. These would include the need for special funding for Laois from Fáilte Ireland to help tourism recover, in view of the reputational damage caused by the partial lockdown.
The Laois junior minister said: “I have been speaking to ministers about this in the last few days. The next thing now is that we need it to be addressed at cabinet level.”