Taoiseach says Government had to consider ‘wider issues’, not just Nphet advice

Martin accuses Sinn Féin leader of constantly seeking to undermine Government

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended the Government’s decision to move to Level 3 rather than the highest Level 5 of restrictions.

He said that the Government had to consider “wider issues” beyoind just advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Nphet had recommended a move for the whole country to level five to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Martin told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the impact of Level 5 would have been very severe , with the greatest impact on the disadvantaged.


During leaders’ question in the Dáil, Ms McDonald said that Monday was a “critical day” in the fight against Covid-19 and the vulnerabilities Ireland faced were down to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste because the lack of intensive care unit beds showed a “decade of failure” from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“In 2009 we had 289 intensive care beds. Now we have 280. We had more a decade ago,” she said.

Mr Martin said “what’s essential in combating, in dealing with a pandemic of this scale and severity, is unity of purpose on all fronts including in this House” and he accused Ms McDonald of having “consistently sought to undermine Government efforts” and the HSE.

He also defended the Government’s decision to move to Level three rather than the highest Level five of restrictions, as recommended by Nphet, and and said the Government had to consider “wider issues”.

Ms McDonald also said that when she spoke with the Taoiseach on Monday and asked if he could give an assurance that Ireland was “winter ready” with PPE, testing kits, laboratory capacity and ventilators he could not give her that assurance. “I find that very worrying”.

Ms McDonald said it would be “catastrophic” for workers, families and businesses if they had gone to Level Five “ because “you have cut the supports and protections that they need simply to survive and get by”.

But she claimed the Government “does not have its eye on the ball and doesn’t have a grasp on what’s actually needed to ensure that people can live safely alongside the virus”.

Bed capacity is “perhaps the most important measure” to protect society from going into very serious lock downs.

Mr Martin said the Sinn Féin leader had “misrepresented” their phone call and she had no right to do that as he had spoken to her in good faith.

He told Ms McDonald there were 224 ICU beds in March and there were now 282 fully staffed ICU beds and a further 17 in winter plan with staff.

He said the HSE “are saying they have the capacity to deal with this”, adding that Ms McDonald seemed to “consistently disagree with the management team of HSE.

“I’ve great respect for the CMO and Nphet,”Mr Martin said. “I’ve known him a long time and I served with him as minister for health when they deal with Sars.”

He said decision to move to Level Three was made was not taken lightly. He said the impact of moving to Level Five “would have been very, very severe” with the greatest impact on the disadvantaged.

Independent TD Joan Collins called on the Government to reverse the cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and for the employment wage subsidy scheme to be restored to previous levels.

She said “a whole cohort of people will be left in a very very vulnerable situation” if they were not.

Mr Martin said he did not want to “pre-empt” what would happen in the budget but the Government would look to see if it could do more for people hit hard by Covid-19.

However, he said that he had to be fair to everyone on all welfare payments and spending had to be sustainable “”because I think this is going to go beyond April now”.

Ms McDonald also said she was very alarmed by the Tánaiste’s “aggressive approach” on RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live show when he had sharply criticised the latest advice from Nphet and the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on tackling Covid-19 as not fully thought through.

He also said the call to raise the country’s restrictions to Level Five had come “ out of theblue”.

Ms McDonald said that Governments ask for advice and when given it, “I think you accept it with some level of maturity and grace and then you make your decision”.

She added that listening to the Tánaiste, “you’d never think he’d been minister for health” or that he had been in government for the last decade.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times