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It's all about vaccines as Taoiseach Micheál Martin embarks on US TV news blitz

Martin is under pressure to ask President Joe Biden to assist in Ireland’s vaccine roll-out.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on CBS News' Face the Nation.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin on CBS News' Face the Nation.
Image: Twitter/FaceTheNation

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the EU will have to “learn lessons” from the mistakes made with the vaccine roll-out, stating that manufacturing and procurement of vaccines within the EU has been “problematic”.

Speaking to the Brookings Institute in Washington DC this afternoon, as part of the traditional St Patrick’s Day events that would usually be done in person, the Taoiseach said Europe has “done well”, but said there were “lessons to be learned”. 

When asked if the EU should have had its own version of the US Project Warp Speed, and broken through the bureaucratic red tape to roll out the vaccine, he said:

“In short, yes.”

However, he added: “Europe is not like the US.”

He said the EU should have “concentrated more” on the manufacturing side, stating that the greatest challenge EU member States face is getting the vaccine made and delivered on time.

Martin also told a US news network that the B117 variant “caught us” over the new year but that Ireland has seen a “dramatic reduction” in cases and hospitalisations due to the reimposition of severe restrictions. 

Martin is doing a number of interviews on US TV this week ahead of his virtual meeting with President Joe Biden on St. Patrick’s Day. 

The talks are instead of the traditional White House visit and are expected to cover combating Covid-19 and driving economic recovery. 

Martin is under pressure to ask Biden to assist Ireland’s vaccine roll-out by sharing some doses that are understood to be stockpiled in Ohio.

Yesterday, Martin told CBS News that he was “not aware of too many countries that are giving their vaccines away”. 

Speaking on CNBC this afternoon, the Taoiseach was asked about the impact of Covid-19 variants on transmission and the vaccine roll-out. 

Martin said that Ireland had seen a significant impact as a result of the so-called UK variant. 

“We essentially experienced it at the beginning of the year and it caught us to be frank, along with other issues, with a third wave, that was very, very difficult for us through the Christmas period into January,” the Taoiseach said. 

But we have managed a very dramatic reduction in cases, hospitalisations and severe illness through the remarkable response of the Irish people in adhering to severe restrictions on movement and in a whole range of categories. So much so that we’re down among the lowest rate of incidence again across Europe.

Martin said that the vaccine roll-out in Ireland has shown that they do offer “a significant degree of protection certainly against the B117 variant”, adding that the EU is investing in research to “develop modifications” to existing vaccines against other variants that may emerge. 

Asked about the decision by Irish health authorities to pause the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the Taoiseach said he anticipated that the pause would be temporary. 

Germany has this afternoon become the latest country to halt the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine following an alert from Norwegian authorities about four serious blood clotting cases.

Martin said there is “no causal effect established” by health authorities but that the pause is “a precautionary move”. 

“We anticipate that it will be temporary and that we can catch up fairly quickly in terms of the pause of the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Bear in mind of course that we are continuing to administer to our over 70s population the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine and Moderna vaccines, and all of the vaccines have proven to be very effective,” he said. 

Brexit

The Taoiseach was also asked about comments made by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney who said the UK was demonstrating “perverse nationalism” by seeking to reach a trade deal with the United States before the European Union was able to.

Martin said that the UK and the EU had previously come to a trade deal. He added that the UK “was entitled” to make one with the US as long as it doesn’t impact on existing agreements. 

“The United Kingdom now will pursue a trade deal with the United States, it’s entitled to do that but obviously we want the UK to work with the European Union to safeguard and to underpin the Withdrawal Agreement and Brexit trade agreement that has been arrived at with the European Union. Particularly in terms of its application to the island of Ireland and to Northern Ireland as well,” he said. 

Speaking about Northern Ireland at the Brookings Institute event today, Martin said the Northern Ireland Protocol protects the Good Friday Agreement and that it was agreed by UK and EU.

He said US President Joe Biden has deep support for “rules-based organisations” and he believes that adherence to those rules is important.

Talk about a border poll following Brexit poll “was a mistake”, he said.

He repeated that there won’t be a referendum on a united Ireland in lifetime of this government.

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The Taoiseach said he was also worried about the growth of authoritarianism in the world, and within Europe. He said it was undermining democracy, and stressed the importance of the freedom of free speech as a fundamental principle of any democracy. 

He also said he is concerned about the “intolerance” of other perspectives in today’s world,  and “the damning of a person for having a different viewpoint”.

Martin said such things undermines the encouragement of young people to speak their  minds

Martin is also expected to appear on CNN later in an interview with journalist Richard Quest.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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