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NPHET members believe Level 5 advice 'should have been communicated more carefully to government'

The recommendation became public on Sunday night, but the government rejected it yesterday – instead deciding that the entire country should enter Level 3.

Tony Holohan, Ronan Glynn and Philip Nolan leaving Government Buildings yesterday.
Tony Holohan, Ronan Glynn and Philip Nolan leaving Government Buildings yesterday.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Updated Oct 6th 2020, 10:45 PM

SOME MEMBERS OF the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) have said its recommendation that the country moves to Level 5 of Covid-19 restrictions should have been communicated in a more deliberate and careful manner.

The recommendation became public on Sunday night, but the government rejected it yesterday – instead deciding that the entire country should join Dublin and Donegal in Level 3 from midnight tonight.

There are now concerns about the future of the relationship between the government and NPHET, particularly after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last night told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme that NPHET’s advice “hadn’t been thought through, and there hadn’t been prior consultation”.

One senior NPHET source told TheJournal.ie the team should have communicated its advice to government “more carefully, deliberately and slowly”, saying a lesson had been learned.

Speaking on Morning Ireland earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly struck a more conciliatory tone than Varadkar, saying NPHET and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan “have done a very good job and I think they will continue to do a very good job”.

“It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about trying to make the best decision we can given the evidence we have.”

Donnelly said NPHET has to advise the government on “what they believe is required from a public health perspective to suppress this virus”, but the government “has a different job”.

“Government has to make decisions, and we have to take that public health advice in the context of the entire country, in the context of our society, our communities, jobs, and our economy, and given that we decided to move to Level 3,” Donnelly stated.

On the same programme, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald McDonald said the government “squaring up to NPHET and answering them back” was not the right approach. She said Varadkar’s comments amounted to an “unseemly squaring up to Tony Holohan and to NPHET, which I think was unnecessary”.

The seeming lack of communication in recent days contrasts to how the situation was handled back in March ahead of Ireland going into lockdown.

In this oral history of 12 March Holohan recalled how, after the culmination of a late-night NPHET meeting, he and others briefed then-Tánaiste Simon Coveney and then-Health Minister Simon Harris. Varadkar, then-Taoiseach, was spoken to over the phone as he was in the US at the time for the annual St Patrick’s week visit.

“We came out then and we briefed the Tánaiste and Minister for Health … There was a call to the Taoiseach. And the decisions were made,” Holohan told us.

‘Like John Wayne’ 

Independent TD Mattie McGrath was critical of NPHET’s recommendations, saying Holohan was “riding back in like John Wayne with his six guns, swinging around like he’s going to close down the whole country”.

Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House today, McGrath asked where Holohan has been the last few months, seeming to misspeak. He had earlier referenced the fact Holohan was caring for his sick wife.

McGrath later apologised in the Dáil, saying: “I understand where he’s been for the last few months. I want to apologise profoundly for any offence.”

In July, Holohan announced he was stepping back from his role as Chief Medical Officer to spend time with his family.

Holohan’s wife was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in 2012 and was admitted for palliative care in the summer. It is understood she is still receiving treatment. Holohan officially returned to work yesterday.

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McGrath also said he respects NPHET’s medical expertise but there are “not elected by anyone”.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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Órla Ryan

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