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covid inquiry

Ireland's Covid-19 inquiry will involve a 'no-blame' approach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will consult and share the draft terms of reference with opposition parties.


THE REVIEW INTO Ireland’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will involve a “no-blame approach”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today consulted and shared the draft terms of reference with opposition parties.

Government will also seek suggestions from opposition members on the inquiry, with three weeks being given to members to make submissions. 

Varadkar added that a mechanism to consult interested groups and stakeholders will also be found. 

A draft template of the inquiry’s terms of reference has been published and it is understood that the proposals were well-received by opposition members.

The review of how Ireland handled the Covid-19 pandemic will analyse the government’s response, how hospitals and nursing homes coped and the effect it had on society and the economy.

There will also be a “particular focus” on nursing homes.

It is also likely that frontline health workers and families who lost loved ones will also be heard at the inquiry.

The inquiry will be non-statutory and will seek to “provide a factual account of the overall strategy for and handling of Covid-19 in Ireland”.

It will also identify lessons to be learned and make recommendations to guide future decision-making. 

The inquiry however is not intended to cover clinical questions or vaccine efficacy or outcomes.

The inquiry panel will be independent, consisting of a chair and four other members “drawn from a range of backgrounds/expertise”.

It’s expected to take 18 months to complete and testimony to the inquiry will be allowed in both public and in private hearings.

Asked today why the Government had chosen a non-statutory inquiry, Vadarkar said he did not think it “would be in anyone’s interests” to have a six-to-seven-year-long inquiry which cost tens of millions of euro.

He said: “I’m sure that we could have done things differently, could have done things better and we need to learn for the next major public health emergency, so we want to get this done in a year or two, not in six or seven years.

“Also, the objective of it is not to ascribe blame to any individual. Anybody who made decisions or acted as they did during Covid – from front line, to doctors, to media, to Government Buildings – would’ve done so in good faith.

“But to say that there isn’t going to be any blame, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to admit any mistakes.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin said following the UK’s approach of an “adversarial legal inquiry” would not be of benefit to Irish society.

Martin said: “I’ve always made the point that if you go in with this sort of interrogatory approach, the next pandemic or the next major crisis you’ll have everybody looking over their shoulders in terms of ‘how would this look in the context of a future inquiry if I behave this way or that way’.

“Whereas what you want people to do in the midst of a crisis is make decisions based on the best information and evidence before them.”

Dark period

Speaking warlier this week, Varadkar said this week that it was a “very dark period” and “difficult decisions” had to be taken. 

“Everyone can be an expert in hindsight. We can only make decisions based on the information available and the advice that was put to us by experts.

“I have no doubt that the lockdowns saved lives. I am absolutely certain that the vaccine programme saved a lot of lives,” he said. 

“Of course the lockdowns had negative effects. I was among many people in government who were very clear about my concerns about the negative effects of lockdowns, not just on people’s jobs and businesses but also delayed and deferred diagnoses… which did happen. In housing construction we lost thousands of houses because of the housing construction lockdown,” said the Taoiseach. 

He said it was never a case of choosing between the right option and the wrong option.

“It was choosing between options A, B and C, all of which had pros and cons,” he said. 

“Often those decisions were finely balanced. The public health advice more often than not was for deeper, longer, stricter lockdowns.

“That was often the view of the opposition, too, indeed some even flirted with the bizarre zero Covid policy which has proven to be among the worst options when we see the effects that occurred, or certainly not a sustainable option as it was abandoned by all the countries that attempted it,” he added. 

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