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IRFU boss says government should issue them with 'directive' on whether to cancel Italy match

Health Minister Simon Harris is meeting with the IRFU this afternoon.

IRFU boss Philip Browne ahead of his meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris today.
IRFU boss Philip Browne ahead of his meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris today.
Image: TheJournal.ie

Updated Feb 26th 2020, 12:50 PM

THE IRELAND NATIONAL rugby union (IRFU) boss Philip Browne has said the government should issue them with a ‘directive’ to cancel the Ireland versus Italy Six Nations match.

Speaking to the media outside the Department of Health, he said the union believes it is unfair to ask the IRFU to make the decision to call off the match. 

“At the end of the day, the government are here to lead the country in relation to public health decisions, and I think it is somewhat unfair to be asking the IRFU to be making decisions like this. Ultimately, we will comply with whatever directive we are given,” said Browne prior to attending a meeting with Health Minister Harris. 

He would not comment on whether he was unhappy with the minister stating on RTE’s Six One News last night that the department believes the match should be called off, prior to informing the union. 

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross said earlier today that he supports the government’s recommendation to cancel the upcoming Six Nations match against Italy on Saturday week.

“We have absolutely no option,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The minister said that to “defy” advice from public health officials “would be very foolish indeed”.

“It’s a very difficult situation for everybody but of course health is the most important issue at stake here.”

Of the coronavirus crisis he said “we have managed so far to avoid it in Ireland”.

“It’s breaking out in different places every day. We have to do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t come here and it doesn’t spread here.”

Harris announced the decision to recommend cancelling the match on last night’s Six One news.

He said it was the “very clear view” of the National Public Health Emergency Team, which met yesterday, that the game should not go ahead in the interests of public safety.

Following the announcement, the IRFU subsequently sought an urgent meeting with Harris to understand the reasoning behind the decision.

Harris defended making the comments before first speaking to the IRFU, saying his officials were “trying to contact” the organisation at the time.

“We had a pretty big meeting yesterday at the National Public Health Emergency Team. These are all our lead experts in public health, and they made a number of decisions. This is one of the decisions that they made. I was going to be asked straight about it on the Six O’Clock News. We were trying to contact the IRFU at the same time, but we were always, as I said last night, we’re always intended on sitting down with the IRFU today, explaining the rationale,” Harris told the Dermot and Dave programme on Today FM.

Though, in fairness, I think the rationale is pretty clear. It doesn’t seem like a great idea to be encouraging people to travel to Ireland from an affected part of the world now which northern Italy now is we know northern Italy is a particular stronghold for Italian rugby. 

Several regions of Italy have been badly affected by the coronavirus, with over 200 people diagnosed so far.

90 cases have been tested in Ireland, but all have come back negative. No one in Ireland has yet tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ross said this morning that, if the game is cancelled, Ireland cannot stop Italians who have already booked trips from visiting the country.

“You can’t stop them coming, that would be absolutely wrong, we’re keeping the borders open, we’re not going that far,” he said.

“But we’re certainly not going encourage measures that are going to heighten the risk,” Ross added.

On St Patrick’s Day festivities, Ross said that the decision on how they should be handled would be a matter for the Department of Health and said that a decision will be made “closer to the time”.

“Hard decisions will have to be looked at and will have to be made,” Ross said.

In a statement last night the organisers of the St Patrick’s Festival said they would “follow the advice” of all relevant authorities amidst the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.

A spokesperson told TheJournal.ie: “St Patrick’s Festival is monitoring the situation regarding COVID-19 and will continue to do so. We follow the advice and direction of relevant authorities in all matters of public safety.”

UK

Meanwhile, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK will “join up with the Republic” when making a decision on whether future Six Nations games should be played due to health concerns.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley said: “His (Mr Hancock’s) counterpart in the Republic of Ireland Simon Harris has said the game (Ireland vs Italy) should be stopped. The Department of Health here has taken a much more level-headed approach and said they should monitor the situation.

He asked could the minister “give clear advice to the IRFU”.

Hancock replied: “I can confirm that I will ask the chief medical officer to speak to his Republic of Ireland chief medical officer colleague and to make sure that the very best and appropriate clinical advice is given.

“Rather than me giving it from the despatch box, I’ll ensure that we get the best clinical advice and join up with the Republic.”

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Daragh Brophy

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