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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a press conference today Alamy Stock Photo
covid inquiry

Taoiseach says Ireland’s Covid inquiry will 'certainly' be held next year

At an event today alongside WHO officials, Varadkar said the review had been delayed due to a series of ‘unpredictable events’.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said Ireland’s Covid inquiry will “certainly” be held next year after being delayed this year due to a series of “unpredictable events”.

A review of how Ireland handled the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to analyse the government’s response, how hospitals and nursing homes coped and the effect it had on society and the economy.

The Government had planned to establish the inquiry this year, but Varadkar said in January that time was needed to get the terms of reference right so it does not stray into “all sorts of things” as had happened in the UK.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has publicly questioned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, former prime minister Boris Johnson, former health secretary Matt Hancock and former adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings.

“We have the draft terms of reference for the inquiry ready now,” Varadkar said today.

“We have committed to consulting with the opposition before bringing the terms of reference to Cabinet and just with so many unpredicted events happening in the last couple of weeks, we haven’t been able to schedule that at a time that works for everyone.

“So it’ll be the New Year before that goes to Cabinet now but the inquiry will certainly be up and running in 2024 and you can be sure of that.

Varadkar added: “It’s something I’m very keen that we should do because we need to work out what we did right and what we did wrong and what we can do better should we face a pandemic in the future, always understanding that the next pandemic when it comes is likely to be very different one to the one that happened.”

Varadkar was speaking after meeting the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, in Dublin today.

Varadkar said the visit was an “important opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen Ireland’s partnership with the World Health Organisation”.

Tedros was accompanied by Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, and the two senior health experts met President Michael D Higgins earlier in the day.

left-right-dr-tedros-ghebreyesus-the-director-general-of-the-world-health-organisation-who-taoiseach-leo-varadkar-and-dr-mike-ryan-the-executive-director-of-the-world-health-organisations-who Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The WHO team is in Ireland for talks on the upcoming pandemic convention and reform of International Health Regulations.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly today reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to progressing the development of an international treaty aimed at strengthening pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed agreement was discussed at today’s meeting in Dublin with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Dr Mike Ryan, and WHO Technical Officer, Dr Cindi Lewis.

Minister Donnelly noted that Ireland is a “strong supporter of the WHO leadership in the global health architecture” and added that he secured increased funding in the 2024 Health Budget for Ireland’s assessed contributions to the WHO.

“It will rise from €1.5 million in 2023 to the target level of €3.7 million from 2024, well ahead of the 2029 deadline,” said Donnelly.

Covid Inquiry

Asked at a press conference at Government Buildings about how Ireland should approach its Covid-19 inquiry, Ryan said: “I don’t presume to tell the Irish government how it should run its business, particularly when it comes to reviewing performance in an emergency response.”

Ryan said there was “coherent leadership” from Ireland during the pandemic and that science was “driving the car”, which he said was not the case in all other countries.

“I will say two things, one is looking from the outside in: the Irish health service, leadership and unity in Ireland expressed the way in which the population of Ireland worked with the government to get through the worst of this pandemic was quite impressive.

“Science was driving the car, which was good, which wasn’t the case everywhere else.

“But no emergency response in my experience, and as a clinician as well, we never do anything in medicine or health without having some sense of ‘we could have done it better’.

“One of the things we’re trained in medicine is always to do that clinical review, you go back and look at any event, whether it went well or went badly because there’s always something to learn.

Ryan described the prospect of a review as a “fantastic idea”.

dr-mike-ryan-the-executive-director-of-the-world-health-organisations-who-health-emergencies-programme-speaks-to-the-media-during-a-press-conference-with-dr-tedros-ghebreyesus-the-director-gener Dr Mike Ryan speaks during a press conference today in Government Buildings Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“The question is I think rather than thinking about the format, and this is a general issue not unique to Ireland, I find and we find, that reviews where the objective is to improve and get better, tend to be very functional and come up with really concrete things that matter and make a difference to people and communities.

“Reviews that are aimed at finding people to blame tend to just do that: they find people to blame and very often do not result in any sustainable, discernible improvement in performance the next time.

“So really, it doesn’t come down to format, it comes down to objective and purpose. So I would ask maybe the government and the people of Ireland to ask ‘what is the purpose of a review’ and if you get that purpose right then the process sorts itself out.”


Ryan was also asked about the advice he would issue to parents and grandparents around managing the risk of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) over the Christmas period.

The HSE last week issued a stark warning that RSV is circulating at “extraordinarily high levels”, with the incidence of flu also “very high”, and has asked parents to “cocoon” very young babies.

Ryan said “the ecology of respiratory disease is recovering from the global pandemic”.

“We’re seeing with the increased mixing of people, with that lack of exposure to other pathogens over the last three or four years, we’re seeing spikes in different times of the year and different pathogens.

“RSV, for most of us, is a very mild issue but for very young babies it can be life threatening so with a spike in cases be sure that vulnerable very young children aren’t exposed to symptomatic children and adults.

“It’s cocooning in the sense of just making sure that the people in the house, if they are coughing and sneezing and could have the RSV virus, that they’re not playing with the baby.

“It’s not about quarantining the young infants of Ireland, it’s about being smart and I think that’s what we’re learning.

“We’re learning again, the basic ethic of kind to others by making sure we don’t give them our bugs, and it’s the same thing with going to work if you’re sick.

“When we have a spike, and particularly with nasty diseases, it’s very important that we all act to protect that mother and child so that they can be safe within that family.”

-With additional reporting from Diarmuid Pepper

Press Association
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