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Taoiseach tells TDs barbers and hairdressers will be 'prioritised' in May easing - but no firm decisions made

The Cabinet is due to meet next Tuesday and Thursday before signing off on plans for the easing of restrictions in May.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Apr 21st 2021, 9:30 PM

THE TAOISEACH AND Tánaiste have briefed their respective parties about Ireland’s vaccine rollout and the expected easing of restrictions to be announced next week – with hairdressers and barbers expected to be prioritised.

At the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Ireland is an epidemiological better position than was expected – after health officials praised people’s “phenomenal” adherence to the public health guidance.

Although he had stressed earlier in the Dáil that no firm decisions had been made about what would be allowed in May, the Taoiseach told Fianna Fáil TDs that they would focus on easing restrictions for hairdressers and barbers, who “have suffered a lot and will be prioritised”, click & collect services, non-essential retail, the rest of construction, and the resumption of religious services.

The Cabinet is due to meet as usual next Tuesday, with a further meeting on Thursday to sign off on plans for the easing of restrictions next month. 

At the PP meeting tonight, Martin also placed an emphasis on getting third-level students back on campuses by September, adding that antigen tests will play a part in their return.

He also told his TDs that the European Commission is pre-purchasing vaccines to deal with variants, as well as booster vaccines, this year and in 2022 and 2023.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told Fine Gael TDs that Ireland needs at least 80% of the population vaccinated before the winter.

At tonight’s parliamentary party meeting, the Fine Gael leader said he believed the target to get over 80% of adults being vaccinated by the end of June can still be met – but added that a lack of supply, or people refusing to take the vaccine as case numbers drop, could prevent this.

A plan for the summer – but foreign travel won’t feature

 Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the government would provide “an indicative idea” of other restrictions being lifted into June and July at the announcement for restrictions being eased during May – which is being dubbed ‘the plan for the summer’. 

Speaking today outside Leinster House, Martin would not confirm that there would be a plan for the summer months, saying that decisions would be taken step-by-step.

We will make a final decision in relation to that – we’ve given some indications around June already for one aspect of the hospitality – the hotels, guesthouses – nothing certain has been decided in relation to that and we will assess that in consultation with the public health authorities.

“I have indicated the areas we are going to examine, personal services like hairdressing.

Hairdressers and barbers have suffered a lot, retail has suffered a lot too. We have to look to what we can do in May for those sectors but we are conscious the numbers have to be kept down.

“I think we are in a good space, we’re in a much better space than we thought we would be, and that will help us in making decisions for May and for June.”

He also said that foreign travel will not feature in next week’s announcement.

“The EU is looking at a green cert idea, but in the first instance it’s to get interoperability from all member states from a technical perspective,” he said. 

His comments on travel come after Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said earlier today that Ireland’s regulations around international travel “may change” over the summer. 

Leaders Questions 

During today’s bout of Leaders’ Questions, Martin reiterated that the target to have over 82% of the adult population vaccinated by June remains. 

He said supply of vaccines has been an ongoing issue, stating that the issues with AstraZeneca deliveries in particular are a problem.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly released this update this evening, showing the number of vaccine doses delivered to Ireland up until last Friday.

There were a total of 165,690 doses delivered: with 136,000 doses from Pfizer, 14,400 from AstraZeneca and 14,400 from Janssen. 

Vaccine supplies Source: Government

On a positive note, he said the vaccine has had a significant impact on hospitalisation rates and the numbers in ICU.

He said the NIAC will discuss the interval between doses of the vaccine and the EMA’s statement about how the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweigh the risks at their meeting tomorrow.

If cleared for use, it would allow 600,000 people to be fully vaccinated in the second quarter of the year (April, May and June).

“Depending on the outcomes of a lot of that, the situation could improve significantly,” he said.

“Overall 1.2m vaccines have been administered and had an impact on nursing homes and mortality,” he said, stating: “The target is still the target”.

Labour’s Alan Kelly said the Taoiseach appeared to be nervous answering questions on the targets, asking why he can’t give straightforward answers to questions about vaccinator recruitment and on a new group being set up within his department to deal with the vaccine rollout.

Yesterday, Cabinet was told that the Department of Health will seek to train up vets, dental hygienists, healthcare students and radiographers to administer vaccine jabs.

“I’m concerned about the volume of vaccinators. Five advertisements looking for more, why are we always looking if we have enough? Why has a new oversight group been set up? Why is it necessary? Is this new group a mudguard set up around Minister Donnelly because of concerns about Stephen Donnelly?” he asked. 

Martin batted away such a suggestion, asking Kelly:

“I wonder what your agenda is. You should be supporting vaccine rollout rather than trying to undermine it.”

He accused Kelly of playing juvenile politics “to get your moment”.

The Taoiseach said the group established is not a mudguard but there to give operationalisation advice.

The exchanges during Leaders’ Questions came after one of Micheál Martin’s TDs stated today that they do not have confidence in the Taoiseach’s handling of the pandemic.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has said he does not have any confidence in his party leader, stating that the Government has “wasted three lockdowns” by failing to implement significant contact tracing capabilities. 

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Mass

In the Dáil today, the Taoiseach was also asked about religious services and when they might resume. 

Independent TD Sean Canney said that the statutory instrument that bans religious services being held, and the way in which it was only signed last week by the health minister, was done so in a clandestine way.

He said it has upset church leaders who see it “as a breach of trust”.

Over the weekend it was reported that four archbishops are seeking a meeting with government about the way in which the regulation was signed, with no notice given to church leaders last week.

There has been an ongoing controversy over whether the halting of religious services was previously public health advice, whether it was grounded in law under Level 5 restrictions, and what constitutional issues there are with such restrictions.

“Every TD knows people who go to mass daily,” said Canney, who added that it is part of their socialisation.

The Taoiseach said he regards religious worship as a “fundamental right of any society”.

He said the only motivation for the restrictions was to protect life, adding that the government is not out to suppress religious worship. He said the reopening of religious services would be considered at the Cabinet meeting next Thursday.

Homelessness

The Taoiseach also faced questions on housing and homelessness from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. She said in the last nine years, Dublin house prices are up 96%. She said rents are too high and it is stopping them from saving for a deposit.

She said these people are putting their lives on hold as the government keep making bad decisions. 

She also spoke about a photograph that surfaces this week of a child eating their dinner on a crate in the street. McDonald said this is not the first time we have seen such shocking images. 

Martin said housing is a priority for this government.

“The image of the girl is an upsetting one,” he said, but said that progress ” has been made in relation to homelessness. 

He said family homelessness has fallen by 42%, while overall homelessness is down 19%.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy. Updated by Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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