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Varadkar pressed by opposition leaders on plans to ease restrictions in teleconference call

Earlier, junior minister John Halligan said people need to “know there’s the pathway” out of this.

Image: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Apr 29th 2020, 10:31 PM

 

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR was pressed on the government’s plan for easing restrictions at a teleconference call involving opposition leaders this evening, with those cocooning allowed to go outside for exercise and the easing of funeral restrictions up for discussion.

It was also put to the Taoiseach that a case could be made for the lifting of restrictions in counties less affected by Covid-19, something that was suggested by Junior Minister John Halligan at a press conference earlier today. 

Most leaders pressed Varadkar on the criteria that would be used for the ease of measures, even if exact timeframes could not be known as of yet. 

Potential coalition partners for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, such as Labour and the Greens, were on the call with Labour’s Alan Kelly calling on the Taoiseach to ease restrictions somewhat for those cocooning on Friday. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan argued for the easing of restrictions for funerals and the ability to go on holiday in Ireland.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald expressed concerns around problems in the level of testing and contact tracing that has yet to be resolved, and said that it was vital to ensure an environment where the restrictions could be wound down safely. 

Opposition leaders also questioned Varadkar on the issue of nursing home clusters, face masks, the spend on private hospitals, and the future of the €350 Covid unemployment payment. 

It’s understood Varadkar didn’t make clear what action the government would be announcing ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend. 

‘Green agenda’

004 NO FEE Covid research Junior Minister John Hallligan said the 2km rule needs to be looked at. Source: Photocall Ireland

Earlier today, Minister of State of Training and Skills John Halligan said the “green agenda” may need to be “pushed aside” for the next few years to protect and create new jobs post-Covid 19.

Addressing the issue of the current government formation talks, Halligan said the next government will have to be “very careful” as to where it invests money, stating that he believes people will “respect and accept” that some of the green actions will have to be delayed.

“Our job now will be to protect the jobs we have, create new jobs and protect those that have lost their jobs. If there is a huge cost to what the Greens are looking for then if I was in government I wouldn’t be accepting it, but I am not,” he said.

Prior to today’s leaders teleconference, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael responded by letter to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan stating that they would be open to teasing out how a 7% emissions reduction can be achieved on a yearly basis. 

This would effectively be a doubling of the commitments made in the government’s Climate Action Plan.

The Green Party had sought more detail on a number of issues before it will agree to enter into formal talks about government formation.

Lifting restrictions

Halligan, an Independent TD who did not stand for re-election in February, said this afternoon that the financial implications after the public health emergency is over will be immense, stating that whatever finance and investment the government has will have to be directed at sustainable jobs. 

The junior minister,  also said that this government should be able to stay in place during the Covid-19 emergency.

“I understand that the government has to be formed,” he said.

“My ultimate view would be this government should stay the course,” he said.

It should be allowed to “run for another couple of months to see where we are”, said the Waterford TD.

“We will need expertise coming out of this crisis that we have in place as it is,” he added.

Speaking about the plan to lift Covid-19 restrictions, Halligan said there is a case for a discussion on lifting restrictions on a regional basis. He pointed to the fact that half of cases are in Dublin while there are only seven patients in ICU in Waterford Hospital. 

“There’s a case for that discussion to take place. I’m not a medical expert so I wouldn’t dare say that’s what we should do, I want to make that clear. But I think there’s a case for that discussion, as has been discussed in other countries around the world,” he said.

Halligan said he is only relaying what business people and the public have been saying to him on the restrictions.

He also said that he is in favour of having the two kilometre distance to be increased.

Halligan said many people are not seeing their loved ones or their grandchildren and called for ”some compassion and even-handedness” to be shown to people who are living under very difficult circumstances.

“Not all of us have grandchildren or loved ones living within a two kilometre distance so I think that may have to be looked at. I think we need to just have a compassionate approach, particularly if this lock down goes on any longer,” he said.

Frustration is building up in the public, said the junior minister.

His comments come a day after their were differing views among ministers at Cabinet about how and when restrictions should be lifted. It is understood the majority raised concerns about the restrictions shutting down businesses permanently, the impact on older people as well as the two kilometre rule.

The junior minister said the vast majority of people are “doing their best” but the public needs hope now. 

They need to “know there’s the pathway” out of this, said Halligan, stating:

“We need to show a little bit more compassion, and we need a bit more coming out over the next couple of weeks to give people hope that there is a way out of this. I think that’s the main problem I have with it, that we’re not getting that at present, and we need to get that.”

Commenting on the issue of transparency, Halligan said it is reasonable ask that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) appear before the Dáil or an Oireachtas Health Committee, he added.

Halligan said Labour leader Alan Kelly was correct to ask that minutes of the NPHET meeting be released. 

“I think it’s a reasonable question to ask,” he said, adding that he welcomes a breakdown of the group was published by the Department of Health yesterday.

He said it would not be out-of-order to call for the team to appear before the Dáil from time to time while the crisis is ongoing.

“I’m not asking this as a politician but very many people come to me and asked me who is making decisions,” he said.

With reporting from Sean Murray

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