Health Minister Stephen Donnelly called for political solidarity.
OPPOSITION TDS HAVE slammed the government for giving “inconsistent” and “mixed messaging” in relation to public health measures in the last number of weeks.
During a Dáil debate on the Rural Independent Group’s motion to annul last week’s regulations which require pubs to keep a record of all meals ordered, a number of TDs said the government has lost the support of the public as some of the measures do not make sense to them.
Galway Independent TD and Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly said the poor communications of the government is “greatly damaging”.
“A complete shambles” is how she described the government’s approach to the handling of the pandemic.
“We are not in this together,” she said, stating that the meat factories, direct provision and nursing homes, where many clusters have been recorded, were never in it with everyone else.
She agreed to back “draconian” legislation on the basis that there would be “full and frank disclosure” which Connolly said has never been forthcoming from the government.
Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle was the first of many TDs to state that people don’t understand the reasoning behind many of the measures being introduced in relation to pubs, social and mass gatherings.
He said many of the measures “don’t make sense, and people know they don’t make sense”.
His constituents are questioning why they can’t go to a football match with people, but can watch it with people in a pub when they are eating.
“No one is buying into it,” said Pringle. “You are losing the argument in terms of public safety and public health,” he added.
‘Anger and frustration’ of the public
Rounding on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Labour’s Sean Sherlock said the minister “needs to get out and start meeting real people, because I feel that he’s been cocooned to use that unfortunate phrase himself”.
“I feel that he hasn’t gone out and met the people. And if he met the people he would probably sense that the anger and the frustration of people who are living in this country at this point in time, who want to abide by the regulations, who want to obey the rules, but they also want some degree of normality to be restored to their lives, and to allow them to be able to do the things that they always did.
“Not just say you can do it one minute and then just stop it in its tracks the next. We need to have a degree of humanity, a degree of sympathy, a degree of emotional intelligence about how we conduct our affairs in this parliament,” said Sherlock.
“Common sense has broken down, and common sense needs to be restored,” he added.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said his party has tried to follow a “common sense approach” throughout the pandemic, which he claimed is in “stark contrast” with that of the government’s which has had “bonkers” ideas and “mixed-messaging”.
“I think that when you have mixed messages, and when you have solutions on the table that don’t make sense to people, people then start to lose confidence in the authority of the government and the messages that the government are delivering,” he said, citing the confusion over the €9 meal when in the pub.
Cullinane was also critical of the minister for health in his communicating of the measures.
“The problem is that you have become part of the problem, and your government has become part of the problem in terms of how you, as a minister and other ministers have badly communicated many of the measures in which you have put in place,” he said.
“You, for example proposed criminalising people for having friends over. You, for example proposed giving gardaí more powers to enter into people’s homes, and your presentation of those arguments minister, and your presentation of those issues, were contradicted by the Taoiseach and other government ministers, minutes, and days after you made them,” said Cullinane.
He also hit out against the minister for “fear-mongering” about the possibility of a second lockdown.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said people do not understand why you can do one thing, and not another. Many of the measures “don’t make sense for people”, he said. The Dun Laoghaire TD said they need to clearly explain their rationale.
He said the Covid data hub does not have enough information and criticised the minutes of NPHET’s meetings have not been updated since 12 August. Boyd Barrett said the health experts are telling government that the rising cases are originating in households.
“Is it coming through the walls,” he asked, stating that it is coming from workplaces, yet there is no data showing what sectors or workplaces.
Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae urged health minister to admit that the government was wrong in rolling out the rule that you had to order a €9 substantial meal when drinking in a pub. He said they should all have been opened together.
TDs spoke about he need to fight the spread of misinformation and the need to promote the wearing of face masks and social distancing.
Donnelly said the year has been tough for many people. He said the pandemic meant severe restrictions being imposed on people.
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He said now the country must suppress the virus “in order to protect our civil liberties” and to keep the country open for business.
The public need to be confident in the measures that are being recommended by the health experts, said Donnelly.
The minister said political solidarity matters when it comes to public confidence, but added that the Oireachtas might not be doing quite so well anymore.
Donnelly said he wasn’t looking for a free pass, stating it can be “tiring” living with the virus in our community, but he asked for more support from his Dáil colleagues.
While he said cases are rising, the number of people in hospital and ICU is far from where it was earlier this year.