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Health Minister rules out return of restrictions but criticises lax hospitality sector as 3,726 new Covid cases reported

Stephen Donnelly said TDs opposing a proposed extension of regulations requiring masks and Covid passes were “reckless”


Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

MORE than 3,700 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed today as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly accused TDs of being “reckless” for voting against keeping vaccine passports in place for next three months.

Tonight, Mr Donnelly insisted the Government was not contemplating bringing back restrictions despite over 3,726 Covid-19 cases reported.

"Today's increase is high and we hope that it's an outlier ," he said on RTÉ's Prime Time this evening.

"Cases have been rising very significantly in nearly all age groups. In terms of where we thought we would be we are in between the pessimistic and optimistic."

Minister Donnelly said the Government is concerned but it has a plan, with booster jabs for healthcare workers and older people, antigen tests being sent to homes, serial testing and the annual flu jab drive under way.

"We need a national effort, government and industry has a role to play and all of us as individuals has a role to play,” he said.

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"We have always relied on individuals, this has always come down to people doing the right thing."

However, he also said the hospitality sector is not doing enough to check Covid-19 certificates and said while there needs to be more enforcement the Government can't rely on this.

He said: "Does there need to be more enforcement? Yes… they [businesses] are not doing what they need to do.. there are thousands of inspections."

The minister added that individuals can do more to ensure that bars, nightclubs and restaurants are doing more by asking them why they're not checking Covid certificates or adhering to guidelines.

The rate of Covid in the country is 18pc higher than last week although the number of people with the disease in hospital remains relatively stable. There are 493 patients in hospital, of which 90 are in ICU. 

In the Dáil Mr Donnelly was accused of being “disrespectful” by opposition TDs for accusing them of being reckless for voting against emergency health legislation underpinning Covid passes.

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“I do think it’s reckless and I said that with respect he said,” he said.

In a statement chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan again urged people to take up the vaccine. 

He added: “"We also know that, even when vaccinated, we still need to practise basic public health interventions - washing our hands, opening windows, wearing masks and most importantly, staying home when we have symptoms. These simple measures are very successful at breaking the chains of transmission of this disease.” 

Mr Donnelly said TDs stand up in the house and say they want to protect healthcare workers but many are planning to vote against legislation which will do that.

Independent TD Michael Healy Rae and Michael McNamara criticised Mr Donnelly.

There was pushback in the Dail against the Government’s attempts to extend emergency power legislation.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly this afternoon proposed extending them until February 9.

The emergency power legislation provides for face masks, Covid passes, enforcement powers and fixed penalty notices to be put in place in relation to restrictions.

The laws, which were due to expire on November 9, are now being extended after being put in place for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said that he accepts that some public health restrictions will have to stay in place, however he said that the country is now in a “different place” since the legislation was first put in place. 

“I think the time has come where they are no longer necessary,” he said.

He said that the circumstances are now “completely different” than they were when the legislation was first put in place.

TD Thomas Gould said that politicians should not be expected to sign a “blank cheque” and “suspend normal parliamentary oversight”.

People Before Profit also refused to support the extension of the legislation.

Labour TD Ged Nash said that there is a need to take “responsible actions to help save lives”.

He said that measures such as mask wearing will help to tackle the spread of the virus.

Social Democrat TD and party co-leader Róisín Shortall put in place amendments, saying that there are “draconian powers” in place which have an implication on freedoms.

She said that regulations put in place under the legislation should be first brought into the Dáil to allow for scrutiny.

Labour agreed to extend emergency powers as the country is entering a “very difficult winter”.

Asked by Prime Time host Miriam O’Callaghan this evening how he thought Christmas would pan out, Minister Donnelly said: "If we were to talk about the entertainment sector closing down again our artists, entertainers have been through so much so now finally they have a chance to breathe again.

"We don't want to suddenly turn around and say things are shut down again I think what people expect of me at the moment is to say we have a plan, this is what Government needs to do, this is what industry needs to do, and this is what individuals need to do."

The Health Minister said he "won't be reading" Virgin Media News correspondent Richard Chambers’ book about Ireland’s handling of the pandemic called A State of Emergency.

Ms O'Callaghan said in the book a "distinct impression" is given that the Taoiseach lost confidence in Mr Donnelly as the Minister for Health.

Minister Donnelly said he disagrees with this, replying: "Richard's book, I haven't read it and I won't be reading it, the bits I've seen are quotes from anonymous sources, he never came back to check or get any response to them.

"The bits I've seen certainly don't marry with my experience. It was disappointing."

He added that he believes the Taoiseach had faith in him at all times.

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