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Dublin: 23°C Saturday 13 August 2022

Micheál and Leo face party anger over mixed-messaging, members tell leaders people are losing hope

Varadkar told his party that criticism of Government communications was “reasonable, heard loud and clear and will be taken onboard”.

Fianna Fáil's parliamentary party meeting hears: 'We've lost the public.'
Fianna Fáil's parliamentary party meeting hears: 'We've lost the public.'

FRUSTRATION WAS AIRED by politicians in both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings this evening over the government’s poor communications.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is understood to have acknowledged recent criticisms of the Government’s communications around the Living with Covid plan, telling members the criticism was “reasonable, heard loud and clear and will be taken onboard”.

The Fine Gael party meeting heard from politicians who were particularly angry with Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s performance over the last week.

Several Fianna Fáil TDs also hit out against the government’s gaffes and own goals in recent days.

The heated exchanges come in the midst of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI 
poll which reveals public confidence in the Government’s management of the pandemic has slumped since last autumn.

More than half of voters (51%) say that the Government is “not doing a good job” handling the pandemic, while Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly both receive unfavourable ratings from a majority of voters for their performance on Covid-19.

Martin is believed to have told his party members this evening: “I’m well aware of the anxiety and stress out there.”

He acknowledged that it is a very challenging time for everyone in the country. 

The Taosieach said the variants are driving the caution of government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), adding that household close contacts with Covid has gone from one in five to one in three, which shows the impact.

Varadkar told his members this evening that they had a clear plan for the country to combat Covid for the next six to ten weeks.

He said everything must be done not to jeopardise the safe return of schools and childcare.

He said he was was hopeful of what the future would bring and said the virus could be conquered.

Former Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring, not being one to hold back at these party meetings, is understood to have been loud in his criticisms of the Government’s handling of the pandemic, warning Fine Gael members this evening that that people were getting fed up with this Government. 

He hit out also at the Government’s mixed messaging in recent days, stating that the public needed some glimmer of hope if they are too carry on. He said people were losing hope.

Making a similar point at the Fianna Fáil party meeting, James Lawless said “we have lost the public”.

There have been a number missteps in the last week by government, but speaking to reporters last night, the Taoiseach denied that there was a problem with communicating a clear plan.

“No, the message is the clearest message of all,” he said.

A number of Fine Gael members, such as Cork South West Senator Tim Lombard, raised concerns about the communications issues. 

He said there was a marked increase in the level of abuse gardaí were getting at checkpoints over the last number of days, adding that the public were at a “low ebb” and losing patience with the government’s mixed messages.

Former Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy understood to have highlighted the weariness of the public, particularly with the 5km limit.

He is understood to have told members that more people are breaking restrictions, but in a way by saying “Government be damned”.

While he wasn’t criticising the public, it is believed he raised concerns about the public making it to April, acknowledging the deep level of anger and frustration felt by the public.

His point is highlighted in new research this week, which revealed that one-third of the population is not staying within 10km of home, despite 5km limitations.

There were also heated exchanges at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this evening, with TD Marc MacSharry asking the Taoiseach about extending the gap between the first and second dose of the vaccine, such as has been done in the UK. 

He said Ireland should “go it alone” for future vaccine purchases, rather than wait for the EU to divvy out the jabs. MacSharry also said Ireland should ask the UK for any of its spare vaccines in the weeks ahead.

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Senator Robbie Gallagher agreed that more supplies should be sought from the UK, telling the meeting that vaccine delay uncertainty was unsettling people, particularly around the border regions.

Martin told members this evening that the vaccine roll out is already having a “dramatic impact so far”, re-emphasising the vaccine targets that they intend to hit.

Varadkar said he was confident 100,000 vaccines a week would be administered in March, more than 250,000 a week in April and heading towards 300,000 in May and June.

On the current vaccine supply forecast, between 41% and 47%of adults will have their first dose by the end of April, between 57% and 64% by end of May and 81% to 84% by end of June.

The Tánaiste also said we will be embracing much greater levels of antigen testing in coming months which he described as a positive move.

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