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Michael McGrath: 'There's no going back, there can be no fourth lock down'

The government is set to publish its new Living with Covid plan after a Cabinet meeting today.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated Feb 23rd 2021, 2:16 PM

“THERE CAN BE no going back” and there can be “no fourth lock down”, according to Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath.

His comments come as the Cabinet meets to sign off on the government’s new Living with Covid-19 Plan which will map out the country’s reopening.

The Cabinet meeting is currently underway, with the Taoiseach expected to make a public televised announcement at 6pm.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, McGrath said “there can be no fourth wave coming to Ireland”, adding that “what we are doing now, we need to make sure that we are doing for the last time”. 

The minister said the government knows people are growing “weary”, but said the reopening of the country, in tangent with the vaccination programme, must be cautious. 

McGrath was also asked if he has confidence in Stephen Donnelly as health minister. “Yes, I certainly do,” he said.

Opposition politicians have strongly criticised the minister this morning after Donnelly sought to clarify remarks he made over the re-opening of schools in a television interview last night, and said that negotiations have concluded with teaching unions in this regard.

Stephen Donnelly had earlier said that these talks were still ongoing. 

Yesterday, the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee agreed a number of measures as part of its new plan for Living with Covid

Included within this is an extension of Level 5 restrictions until at least 5 April, but with the phased re-opening of schools from next week.

However, speaking to RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live last night, Donnelly said Education Minister Norma Foley was “still in negotiations with the unions” on the matter of reopening education. 

He added that Cabinet “hopes to be in a position” to make an announcement on the re-opening of education today. 

In a tweet just after midnight, the health minister clarified that meetings with teaching unions “concluded early this afternoon”. 

“Government intends making an announcement after Cabinet in line with plans as already outlined,” he said. 

Following today’s Cabinet meeting, the updated Living with Covid Plan, mapping out how the country might ease restrictions in the coming months, will be published.

Only dates for students returning will be published, with no other indicative dates for the easing of restrictions to form part of the plan.

The government will also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) other and supports for businesses into the summer.

Speaking to reporters last night, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that “people are weary, we’re still in a very precarious position”.

Ryan said the focus is “particularly on getting schools back, make sure we do that safely”. 

He added that the plan “gives some hope as well”. 

“First thing’s first is to take care of the next few weeks, we’re still in a very difficult situation and you have to be careful”. 

Beyond the reopening of schools, no major easing of restrictions is expected to be announced today, with a review of restrictions taking place after Easter.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week said that some restrictions would remain in place until at least the end of April.

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Construction and retail are likely to be the first industries allowed to reopen once the spread of Covid-19 slows, while hospitality will face a longer wait.

The 5km exercise limit will remain in place, but it will be reviewed after Easter. 

Separately, there were 676 people in hospital with Covid-19 last night including 154 in intensive care. 

A further 686 new cases were confirmed in Ireland yesterday.

With reporting from Christina Finn

About the author:

Sean Murray

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