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Minister says Christmas 'free-for-all' could lead to January lockdown

Pippa Hackett said businesses reopening and closing again wouldn’t suit anybody.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett.
Minister of State Pippa Hackett.
Image: Twitter

A GREEN PARTY Cabinet Minister has said that a Christmas “free-for-all” could lead to another lockdown in the new year. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said that people needed to “buckle down” for the next few weeks. 

Ireland’s Level 5 restrictions are set to come to an end on Tuesday week, 1 December, and the government is set to decide later this week what will be implemented to replace them.

The government’s decision will be based on advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), with the advisory health body expressing concern about Covid-19 infection rates over the past week. 

Intense talks between NPHET and the government are expected to take place over the coming days.

Hackett said it is difficult for government to provide certainty for businesses, but that they did not want a situation where they could reopen before Christmas and be forced to close again.

“There is no point indicating to people we are going to open up for two weeks at Christmas because that is just a free for all,” the Senator said.

As difficult as it is now to get people to adhere to the regulations, a free-for-all two-week holiday at Christmas, that will be lockdown after Christmas.

“Do we open for a couple of weeks and then shut back down in January? I don’t think that suits any business model and I don’t think that is particularly the message that we should be sending out.”

She added: “We have a week or so now to really buckle down, obey what we have been asked to do. Young and old should be really coming together to do this.”

Hackett acknowledged that there is a “deep frustration” among publicans and restauranteurs about the the ongoing restrictions that they have “put in place measures” but still cannot open. 

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said that people wanted to have “as normal a Christmas as possible” but that “we have to continue to monitor the public health advice”. 

“We need to get those numbers down as low as possible. So what I would say to government is that they need to be frank with all sectors of business and they need to ensure that the financial supports are there to keep these businesses afloat and to ensure that next year they can continue on,” he said. 

NPHET had previously indicated that it was targeting an average daily Covid-19 of in and around 100 when the six-week lockdown ended but at present the average is closer to 400

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Labour’s Ged Nash TD said that there will be some “flexibility” about restrictions ahead of Christmas. 

“I think there’s probably a certain inevitability that there will be some flexibility built into the system as we approach Christmas,” he said.

“I think the government wants to see a move to something around ‘Level 3.5′ next week to allow certain sectors to reopen. And then there’s a reality that at Christmas week and the week between Christmas and New Year where people will be determined to spend some time with their families. 

The comments from the politicians come as Downing Street said following a meeting between devolved leaders in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales that the UK government is in discussions with Dublin over travel arrangements on the island of Ireland over Christmas. 

“In respect of Northern Ireland, Ministers also recognised that people will want to see family and friends across the island of Ireland, and this is the subject of discussions with the Irish Government,” a Cabinet Office statement said

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Rónán Duffy

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