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Martin and Varadkar forced to defend vaccine plan changes amid criticism from their own TDs

TDs have been hearing from teachers and other frontline workers unhappy with the changes.

Image: Sam Boal

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have been forced to defend the overhaul of the vaccine programme at their respective parliamentary party meetings. 

In what was described as a “heated discussion”, there was an unusual turn of events, as written exchanges over the party’s chat feature between TD John Paul Phelan and  Varadkar played out. 

Phelan is understood to have written that “teachers and gardaí and childcare workers” slotted into specific positions on the old vaccine plan.

“We have changed that,” he wrote.

The Tánaiste is understood to have written back that the list of workers was never defined under the previous plan.

Varadkar said that “assumptions were made”, but Phelan said those workers knew what  categories they were in on the list.

“Now we have scrapped the list,” said Phelan.

Varadkar is understood to have responded by asking what statement or circular specifically stated what cohort workers were in, telling Phelan to send him the link. Phelan said the answers were unacceptable.

Party sources said it appeared as though the pair thought the chat was private but in fact, the entire party could see it. 

The Taoiseach was also defending the new vaccine plan, with TDs telling Micheál Martin that their offices had been hearing from teachers and other frontline workers who are unhappy with the changes in the vaccine roll out plan. 

Teachers’ unions

Teaching unions and the Garda representative unions have criticised the move today.

Mayo TD Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if the new vaccine order will result in a quicker roll out, and called on government to provide a timeline of when age groups will be vaccinated.

He also called for the government to engage with teachers and gardaí.

TD Barry Cowen told Micheál Martin that his office has received many calls from teachers, childcare and other key workers questioning the decision. 

While Cowen said he understood the science and rationale behind the decision, he is left wondering why this information could not have been discerned many months ago.

He told Martin that promises were made to certain cohorts, and they should be honoured.

However, he also said that early on it was known that Covid impacted far greater on the aged and vulnerable, but NIAC and the government persisted in promising and assuring key workers their place would be higher due to the risk of infection associated with their employment.

“Now suddenly to pull the rug from under them is far from ideal and most disheartening and disturbing for those cohorts,” Cowen said.

There is an absolute need now to adhere now to the vaccine targets that have been set out, he said.

Vaccinations 

Earlier today, the Taoiseach said 80% of the population would be vaccinated with their first dose by June.

Cowen maintains that if this is to be achieved, it means 250,000 doses per week from now on, which will require GPs, pharmacists and all vaccinator personnel and centres at “full tilt”.

Failure to meet the commitments made will be a “further blow” to people, he said.

TD Cathal Crowe also raised the matter, but the Taoiseach insisted that age is the key now. 

Martin reiterated that this could mean it will potentially be faster for teachers to get vaccines. 

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TD John McGuinness is understood to have said he would have liked to see vaccinations for gardaí and teachers with underlying issues.

Martin said if the country opens up too soon it will “wreck the summer”. 

He told his parliamentary party this evening that he understands that people are fed up, but said caution now will pay “enormous dividends” during the summer.

Martin said supply lines of the vaccine had hardened up now, mentioning his confidence in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in particular.

“We must contain the virus and ramp up the vaccinations programme.,” he said, stating that people need a release and that is why government extended the 5km exercise limit.

“We need to keep the pressure on the virus and keep a lid on it,” he added.

Review

Non-essential retail, the expansion of non-contact sport, religious services, personal services like barbers and hairdressers and construction will be reviewed for the next phase in a month’s time.

A number of other Fianna Fáil TDs also raised the prospect of Green Certs as a way to reopen society as people are vaccinated, while vaccine passports were also highlighted as a means to reopen international travel.

Fine Gael’s parliamentary party also heard calls to reopen travel, with Senator Regina Doherty criticising mooted plans that more countries could be added to the mandatory quarantine list, as was reported this week. 

There was anger within the Department of Foreign Affairs this week, with Minister Simon Coveney stating that he was not consulted on any such changes to the list, that would include the addition of the US and other EU countries.

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