Simon Coveney denies tensions with health officials over lifting of over-70s restriction

Any suggestion of tension “is just not correct” he told the Today with Séan O’Rourke show.
Simon Coveney denies tensions with health officials over lifting of over-70s restriction

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has denied that there is any tension between the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Any suggestion of tension “is just not correct” he told the Today with Séan O’Rourke show.

The Minister was responding to recent suggestions that the government had acted against NPHET advice in lifting the restrictions for over-70s.

Mr Coveney dismissed that a difference of opinion existed and said the relationship between the government and NPHET is "a fantastic one" and that there was complete trust between the government and Dr Tony Holohan and his team

“That doesn’t mean that Ministers don’t ask questions,” he added.

Mr Coveney said that all decisions made by the government had been based on public health advice and that thousands of lives had been saved by following this advice and expertise and said that reading a story that there was tension had surprised him.

It’s just not true, it doesn’t mean that we don’t debate the issues. NPHET has a job to do and that is to offer the best advice.

"There is now a template", he said, before acknowledging that may need to change.

“We will have to measure as we go, we will do so every three weeks and decide whether we need to stick to the plan or amend it or reimpose restrictions if necessary.

“We will engage with all sectors. The important thing is that anything that is proposed to the government has to be rigorously assessed by the government and NPHET.

Ultimately this is about saving lives.

The government is insisting on a step by step, cautious approach, he added.

When asked about criticism that the government did not inform the Northern Ireland Assembly about plans to ease restrictions last Friday, Mr Coveney said that Robin Swan and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister had been given “a heads up” the night before during a video conference call.

What had not been shared was all the details which were not approved by Cabinet until the following day, he said.

'I never pointed the finger at the Green Party'

Meanwhile the Tánaiste defended comments he made last week about climate change and agriculture and the Green Party’s demands for forming a government.

In an interview in

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Irish Examiner

“Nothing has been ruled out effectively. But, there are some things you simply can’t say yes to without figuring out how it’s going to be done,” he said.

Speaking ion the same interview with Séan O’Rourke, Mr Coveney said he had been asked would he sign up to an agreement and he said he would not if it “decimated” rural Ireland.

I never pointed the finger at the Green Party.

The Tánaiste said that the government needed to show people that they can be ambitious about climate change. “Eamon Ryan is right that there will have to be radical changes, but we have to bring people with us.”

The challenge is to be ambitious, he said, but “we know what would happen if we lost the public,” he added. “We saw what happened with the water charges.”

The challenge is to work together, to be ambitious, he said.

“We believe that is achievable. Richard Bruton has put a very credible climate change document in place.” It will involve changes in approach, but a “quick fix” is not the answer.

Mr Coveney said the government is already committed to significant reductions.

“We need to do that in a way that involves farm families.”

However, he warned that there will need to be significant changes to the sector and agriculture will need to be reshaped.

“We will have to bring people with us.

That’s what the next few weeks will be about.

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