Last Tuesday in Government Buildings, Leo Varadkar set his phone on the table with the stopwatch app open. The Taoiseach called on his Cabinet ministers in alphabetical order, giving each of them two minutes to outline their views on lifting the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions.
What followed was the first sign that the cross-government consensus on dealing with the pandemic emergency was over.
Minister after minister made the case for beginning to reopen the country, some more forcefully than others, with many arguing for the relaxation of cocooning for the elderly. "There is a bit of a mood now which says we are going to have to look after the economy," said a minister afterwards.
The roadmap published by the Taoiseach on Friday is a delicate blend of political pragmatism to temper scientific restraint.
Its release was chaotic. The 23-page technical document largely produced by Nphet was given to ministers only 10 minutes before the special Cabinet meeting to approve it. "It's badly formatted, it's written for stakeholders rather than the public," grumbled a minister afterwards. Civil servants weren't mad about the timing of its release, late on Friday, either, while Opposition leaders were briefed mere minutes before the Taoiseach addressed the nation.
According to one expert advisory figure, as time goes on, protecting both public health and the economy is likely to become an increasingly difficult balancing act in the long months ahead.
Some 63 days since Ireland's first case of Covid-19 was confirmed, the curve has flattened. Weeks have dragged by, there have been signs the public mood is shifting, cars are returning to the roads and many worried jobless homeowners are looking to extend mortgage holidays for another frightening three months.
In one two-week period, gardai arrested 76 people for breaching Covid-19 lockdown and there has been a marked increase in house parties.
Government ministers and officials are also concerned that the time it will take for the country to reopen - just under 100 days at least - is too long.
The Department of Public Expenditure roughly estimates the State is spending around €600m extra a week to keep the health service going and the economy on life-support. It will not be sustainable for much longer, the officials privately warn.
One government insider wondered whether Sweden's controversial herd immunity strategy may have been a wiser approach. "We've killed our economy and they haven't. When the inquiry happens into this whole period, I think a lot of people will say: 'Were no other considerations brought to bear other than public health?'"
This is definitely a minority view, but, nonetheless, ministers are already this weekend pushing for the restrictions on pubs to be lifted sooner if they can comply with the public health guidelines, as well as allowing the elderly to do more in the coming months.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys said yesterday: "If we find the coronavirus is abating considerably, well there's no reason why these dates can't be accelerated."
These restive politicians have trained their attention on the group of academics, policy wonks, doctors, civil servants and communications advisers, who, as one politician said, "are running the country" these days.
The first chink in the political frontline emerged two weeks ago when the newly crowned leader of the Labour Party, Alan Kelly, expressed a growing mood. To whom is Nphet accountable? Where are its minutes? Does it consult the Taoiseach before announcing to the public its decisions that affect "all of our citizens"? The restrictions might be working, he said, but they were certainly not transparent.
Nphet published its governance document last week, listing scores of members appointed by the group and the collection of sub-groups which mushroomed as the pandemic took hold. Interestingly, it did not list a working group for nursing homes was set up on March 19, when they were already hit.
Tensions have spilled over, too, between Dr Tony Holohan, Nphet and the Health Service Executive (HSE) managers tasked with implementing the experts' advice.
Difficulties have concerned a lack of consultation with the HSE when key decisions are made, according to a source close to the Covid-19 response teams. They are usually centred on the twin fault lines of failed promises on testing capacity (see panel) and the failure to anticipate the rapid spread of infection in nursing homes.
On Friday, April 17, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced testing of all staff and residents in every nursing home in the country. The National Ambulance Service was to be deployed immediately for swabbing. But, according to informed sources, no one consulted in advance with the HSE.
Sophisticated communication systems had been set up to track tests from GP referral all the way to contact tracing. This would take a number of days, a cumbersome manual system was deployed that slowed up the processing of test results. The HSE later raised concerns in letters to the Minister for Health.
The Health Minister's total deference to medical experts is partly a result of the CervicalCheck debacle two years ago. On that occasion, he ignored advice not to offer free smear tests to all women in a move that created a massive backlog and delays in the system. Mr Harris has publicly defended that decision - but privately acknowledged mistakes were made.
Mr Harris's ubiquity during the crisis has also annoyed colleagues. It wasn't just his intervention on schools, which he suggested in this newspaper two weeks ago could reopen for one day a week.
Business Minister Ms Humphreys is said to have been furious when Mr Harris said in the same interview that packed pubs would not return until a vaccine is found - remarks which petrified publicans across the country. "There was f**king murder over that," said one minister of Ms Humphreys's reaction.
There is also deepening unease among ministers over the power wielded by Nphet.
At a teleconference organised for ministers last Thursday, Dr Holohan faced repeated calls to ease the cocooning guidelines for over-70s. While most ministers prefaced their remarks by praising the work Dr Holohan has been doing, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring was described as "openly hostile", while Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath was said to have given the chief medical officer "a hard time".
Tanaiste Simon Coveney along with ministers Paschal Donohoe, Josepha Madigan, Michael Creed, and Shane Ross have also been among those to raise the need to loosen the restrictions on the elderly in private exchanges over recent days.
"There is a really big reluctance to publicly challenge what he has to say - but in the meetings that we have they are saying things which go beyond the pleadings," said a Cabinet minister afterwards.
"I think there is a bit of a mood change - that he [Dr Holohan] has got too much power and he is using it too strictly."
Dr Holohan has been described within Government as "the most powerful person in the history of Irish public life". A government source said: "The scientists feel the politicians are taking cover behind them and how sustainable is that? I don't think it is sustainable for them."
Another Cabinet minister said: "I don't accept that they're all gods and they have all the answers, especially when they cocked up over the nursing homes."
One sign that the political deference is waning is in the Taoiseach's roadmap to recovery. The report broadly follows Nphet's advice on lifting restrictions, but for one key element: the dates on which the shutters would start opening. That decision was purely political.
"From an Nphet perspective, we would probably be more cautious about the dates, because there's obviously the possibility that we will need to reimpose restrictions," said Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory and chair of Nphet's expert group.
"The phases as described would have come from Nphet. The Government has made a decision to give people some certainty, to give people some hope and I think that is not unreasonable."
The decision to review restrictions every three weeks was also a political one.
The Government chose three weeks, having previously been advised on two week or four week review periods by Nphet.
"There is an argument to be made for waiting for two incubation periods, which is four weeks," Mr de Gascun said yesterday.
But the Government has decided to go with a three-week incubation period which Mr de Gascun said is "a happy medium and that is not unreasonable".
Whether dates are stuck alongside the roadmap or not, there are no guarantees the roadmap will go to plan. "We have provided to Government a framework document saying these are the types of things that would happen over these phases in the coming months," he said.
"We are assuming and hoping that we will be in a position on May 18 to lift restrictions but there is no guarantee. We will be keeping all of the data under review. What happens is anybody's guess."
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland
The determining factors will be the numbers of people in hospital in three weeks' time, the numbers in intensive care, and testing in the community.
The expert group still has "significant" concerns about nursing homes and what wider testing in the community will show.
"I can understand from the Government's perspective why they would like to have clarity, because ultimately that's their role. Our role is to provide the health advice but it obviously has to take in the broader picture," he said.
"We do appreciate that they've got a broader picture to take into account. At this point in time, the priority has to be on public health measures. We make our recommendations on that basis."
The public, it would seem, is behind Nphet in supporting a slow and cautious easing of restrictions.
Pete Lunn, head of the behavioural research unit at the ESRI, also sits on Nphet's behavioural sub-group. According to research conducted by the ESRI last week, those calling for restrictions to be lifted are a "vocal minority".
The results are still being analysed but they clearly show a "silent majority" want "slow and careful" lifting of the restrictions, he said. "They are a silent majority really. You're hardly hearing those people on the airwaves because of course they're not agitating for anything, they're just sitting in their homes and worrying about it."
And although the research shows the return of pubs and restaurants featured highly when people were asked what changes would make most difference to their lives, there was also a high acknowledgement that this shouldn't happen any time soon.
According to Mr Lunn, a large majority of the public can see there is a trade-off between restrictions they are enduring now and progress in the future.
But there are concerns about how long this caretaker government can continue to count on public support.
Yesterday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed a €2bn credit guarantee scheme for SMEs and a plan to allow companies to 'warehouse' their tax liabilities for a year after they begin trading again will need legislation.
"There are a number of decisions that have to be made that will require a decision by the Dail and by the Seanad, and it is very clear to me that there are economic decisions that our country will need that are relevant to keeping jobs and creating new jobs that in the coming weeks will require the election of a new Taoiseach," he said.
At present, the Dail and Seanad can sit but because a government has not been formed they cannot pass laws and there are no parliamentary committees set up to hold officials to account.
Mr Donohoe is said to have articulated his strong belief of the need for a new government at Cabinet last Tuesday. A source familiar with his views said: "You have a government without any legitimacy and massive decisions with incredibly wide-ranging repercussions being essentially made by unelected people. It is the combination of those two that is problematic and is not sustainable."
A Cabinet minister was more blunt: "This is not sustainable, it's just not sustainable."
The country's top civil servant, Martin Fraser, is thought to share the unease about a caretaker government dealing with the crisis. He authored a memo to Cabinet last month which noted the issue of government formation and stated that "it would be important that measures are put in place to enable proper political debate and public accountability".
Ministers say Mr Fraser, a highly respected public servant and an affable sort, has been playing a more prominent role of late.
"He is playing an increasingly large role and I get the feeling there are a lot of civil servants making decisions almost without consulting their ministers," said a Cabinet source. "So the civil servants have huge power and you have Nphet having almost total power."
One worrying example of this, cited by a senior government figure in recent weeks, is a statement issued on Friday, April 17, in response to controversy over nearly 200 foreign workers arriving in the country to pick fruit for Keelings.
The statement, issued in the name of the 'Government of Ireland', did not express any concern about the incident but later that night both the Taoiseach and Dr Holohan said they were uncomfortable with what had happened.
"The Government of Ireland put out a statement that was not in line with the CMO, Taoiseach or the Health Minister's position," the senior figure said.
Some political figures are also displeased that Elizabeth Canavan, the Department of the Taoiseach assistant secretary, is delivering a daily briefing to the media on the Covid-19 response. "Who is she?" said one figure. "A minister or the government press secretary should be briefing the media."
This weekend there are growing fears across the Government that major decisions on massive public spending measures have been made without a paper trail being developed in departments as happens during normal times. "There is a lot of tension about that," a well-placed source said.
The decision to rent private hospitals for the duration of the crisis is costing the State around €115m a month, far more than the Department of Public Expenditure had anticipated.
Meanwhile, more than €1.3bn in extra health spending announced several weeks ago as the crisis took hold was only formally signed off by ministers at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.
Elsewhere, Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne has repeatedly asked the Department of Education for the written public health advice on the closure of schools and the delay in the Leaving Certificate to no avail. He now wants the exam cancelled altogether - and may get his way in the coming weeks.
This wouldn't be the first time there was a lack of documentation on a government's response to a major crisis. When a review is eventually carried out into how the State responded to the Covid-19 crisis, it will almost certainly find shortcomings in the record-keeping for the monumental and costly decisions that were taken. Ministers and officials will argue it was a crisis where they had to move fast.
But for those who remember the bailout years this is a familiar feeling. "It will be a bit like the banking inquiry," one warned ominously.
We are not out of the woods yet, but at last we can see a clearing in the distance, hopefully by summer's end. This will be a summer like no other in living memory, but the public at large, having adjusted so well - albeit with personal difficulty in many cases and no little tragedy in some - to restrictions on their lives and livelihoods in the fight against Covid-19 will now surely redouble their efforts to come through the next phase in relative good order.
The Spanish flu a century ago caused the deaths of millions of people. The coronavirus appears to be similarly lethal. Despite the huge loss of life from Spanish flu, it had limited impact on societies, politics or economic well-being at the time, and societies were not traumatised by it.