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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly (file photo). Julian Behal via
who knew what

'It certainly wasn't Stephen Donnelly': Taoiseach says health minister didn't leak NPHET's Level 5 recommendation

Donnelly is to make a statement about the sequence of events prior to NPHET’s Level 5 recommendation later today.

LAST UPDATE | 8 Oct 2020

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly is to address the Dáil today to clarify the sequence of events prior to NPHET’s recommendation that the entire country move to Level 5 of Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday evening.

This afternoon, the Taoiseach said he has full confidence in the minister.

Asked about the controversy about who might have leaked the information about the Level 5 recommendation on Sunday, Micheál Martin said it certainly wasn’t the health minister.

“In terms of the situation on Sunday evening… I don’t know who leaked that, but clearly, it is large body [NPHET] and I certainly can’t say, one way or the other who leaked, but it certainly wasn’t Stephen Donnelly,” he said.

The government expressed surprise at NPHET’s recommendation and an apparent lack of communication over the weekend.

However, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday said he spoke to Donnelly on Saturday, on Sunday morning in advance of a NPHET meeting and again afterwards.

“We discussed my concerns, the concerns I shared with him of the conversations I had with a range of members of NPHET over the preceding 24 hours and the fact that I was going to hold a meeting of the NPHET and would brief him afterwards, which is exactly what happened.

“He didn’t set out parameters within which we would conduct our considerations. I was very clear about the level of concern that I have and had and, if anything, the level of concern I had then is less than the level of concern I have now,” Holohan said.

The government instead opted to move the entire country to Level 3.

Donnelly is set to make a statement in the Dáil later today, after calls from several opposition TDs to do so.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live on Monday night that NPHET’s recommendation “came out of the blue” and no one in the government knew Level 5 was being contemplated until Sunday.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Varadkar reiterated that the recommendation to go to Level 5 was a shock to the government, saying there was “no inkling” this would be the advice. However, he said he has since spoken to Holohan and they “cleared the air”.

A spokesperson for Donnelly yesterday confirmed the health minister and Holohan discussed the “deteriorating epidemiological situation” before NPHET gave its Level 5 recommendation on Sunday evening.

The spokesperson said Donnelly informed Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Saturday afternoon that a NPHET meeting would be held on Sunday “arising out of concerns about escalating case numbers”.

Donnelly and Holohan “spoke before and after” the NPHET meeting on Sunday, the spokesperson confirmed. Donnelly and Martin communicated after both of the conversations between Holohan and Donnelly on Sunday.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: “No one knew in the country and no one knew in government until Sunday evening that it might be that proposal to go from effectively from level two to five pretty much the next day, and that would have created real difficulty.”

Ryan added that managing the Covid-19 situation is “complex” and as such it’s natural there will be “different views”.

“Those differences in the past have always been overcome and we’ve moved on and worked collectively together and we will again this time,” Ryan stated.


Speaking to reporters this morning, Labour leader Alan Kelly said it wasn’t a matter of “who knew what and when” but rather about whether Donnelly had the “competency” to ask the right questions of Holohan.

“We need details in relation to what happened over the weekend, because there are questions here about competency and capacity. And that is the most serious issue for me. This is not about catching people out, who said what and when,” Kelly said. 

Did the minister ask him on Saturday or Sunday morning: ‘Is what you’re saying to me, CMO, so serious that we could end up at Level 5? Because if so, and if that is potentially the outcome, then I need to communicate that across government, so we can prepare for it.’

Kelly called on the minister to make a statement to the Dáil said the “crux” of the question for him is whether Donnelly appreciated the seriousness of the situation.

“Level 5 or Level 4, they are nuances. The question is did he get did it. Did he get that how serious the situation was,” Kelly said. 

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane also last night called on Donnelly to clarify exactly what he knew and when.

“Minister Donnelly’s statement does not address the issue. He allowed the impression to be formed that NPHET went on a solo run and stayed silent as the Tánaiste attacked the CMO. This is unacceptable and he must give a full explanation in the Dáil,” Cullinane tweeted.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall also called on Donnelly “to make a full statement of what he was told on Sunday morning and evening and what he did with that information”.

“The country was distracted by an unseemly row between the Government and NPHET at precisely the moment when all attention should have been on responding to the surge in Covid-19 cases,” Shortall said in a statement last night.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Shortall said the “division” between NPHET and the government has taken focus away from “where it should be”, adding: “The government has shown itself to be pretty incompetent over recent days.”

Varadkar and Holohan spoke on the phone on Tuesday night, following the Tánaiste’s criticism of NPHET the previous night.

Varadkar reiterated he was “unhappy” about NPHET’s recommendation on Sunday night, but said the CMO and government are “on the same team”.

Holohan yesterday said he and Varadkar “have a long-standing good relationship over many years, we recognise we need to continue that together over the course of the next weeks and months”.

He added: “I can tell you that he understands and shares my analysis every bit as much and has as much concern about it as I do.”

NPHET is due to meet again today.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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