| 8.5°C Dublin

'I didn't say a bad word about him' - Varadkar says he respects Holohan


Pointing the finger: Leo Varadkar, with chief medical officer Tony Holohan Photo: Gerry Mooney

Pointing the finger: Leo Varadkar, with chief medical officer Tony Holohan Photo: Gerry Mooney

Pointing the finger: Leo Varadkar, with chief medical officer Tony Holohan Photo: Gerry Mooney

Leo Varadkar has claimed “I didn’t say a bad word about him,” regarding Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, and the public disagreement between the Government and NPHET.

Opposition TDs laughed and jeered at the Tánaiste as he made the remark during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, he claimed that Sinn Féin is trying to engage in a blame game.

He failed to answer a question from Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy as to whether he now regretted his TV interview with Claire Byrne on Monday night, in which he shredded the NPHET proposal that the whole country move to Level 5 Covid restrictions, and the manner in which that advice leaked to the public on Sunday night.

Dr Holohan is ‘someone I respect immensely,” Mr Varadkar said. adding that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly would make a statement in the Dáil later, against a background row about ”who knew what and when.”

Mr Varadkar said he had worked closely with Dr Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer in the past, on controversies relating to Portlaoise hospital and Cervical Check, telling Sinn Féin that this was “when you were taking lumps out of him.”

He said the two men had had a good personal conversation in a telephone call on Tuesday night, which had cleared the air.

“Neither of us has any issue with the other, and we spent most conversation talking about how we're going to beat this virus.” It was the first time they had spoken in ages, he added.

Mr Varadkar admitted he had been told about the emergency NPHET meeting the day before it had happened, but had no idea that it would issue advice as it did. The leaking of that advice had “caused fear and anxiety and panic“ for members of the public who thought they would be out of work the next day, he said.

That was a shock and it had come out of the blue, Mr Varadkar insisted.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

But he added: “The events of Sunday and Monday are a distraction from what we need to do, and that is to fight the coronavirus together. Everyone against a common enemy, and that is what I want to do.”

Mr Varadkar outlined the timeline: “I was informed on Saturday, as was the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party that a meeting of NPHET was called for Sunday.

“There was no suggestion, not even an inkling, that level five was being contemplated. Had we known that, we would have sought an urgent briefing that night. And that's what should have happened in my view.

“The first indication that I had that level five was being considered was on Sunday evening, after the NPHET meeting had taken place, and I received confirmation in writing at 8:30pm of the recommendation and the reasons for it.

“For some ministers, the first they heard was on the news,” he said.

The recommendation was not in line with the parameters that are set out in the Government’s framework plan for living with the virus, “which had gone through every door in the country,” he said.

“And the criteria for reaching Level Five had not been met in our view, and I think a decision of such gravity is one that needs to be talked through and thought through — not just the reasons for the recommendations, but also the implications for people.”

He said Sinn Féin “may want to make a big deal about which minister knew what, and at what time on Sunday. But that’s not the point. The point is we had no indication, until Sunday, that this was even being considered.

“But we need to move on from this. This shouldn't be NPHET versus the Government, it shouldn't be the Government versus the Opposition. This has to be Ireland versus the coronavirus.”

He added that the move to Level Three-type restrictions was successful in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, and “might be working in Dublin, but it’s too short a time already to know for sure’” It would be “the best part of 10 days” before it was known whether Level Three was working in the rest of the country,” he said.

He told Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein: “I know what you're trying to do here, which is to play the blame game — so you can set it up so that if the country has to go back into severe lockdown, you can blame the Government.”

On hospital capacity he gave the examples of the Netherlands and Spain, both with a much higher incidence of the coronavirus than Ireland. “They have fewer hospital beds per head than Ireland, but neither at this stage are considering going back into lockdown.”

Related Content

Most Watched