The Government descended into an “incredible shambles” after the Dáil was hastily recalled last night after the entire Cabinet was forced to self-isolate because Health Minister Stephen Donnelly became unwell.
Hours earlier, TDs were told the business of the parliament was suspended until next Tuesday as the Government’s Living with Covid plan was branded as “confusing” and “chaotic”.
TDs were then recalled after Taoiseach Micheál Martin moved to ensure junior ministers would replace their senior colleagues in the Dáil chamber to considerable acrimony last night.
Mr Donnelly was referred for a Covid test shortly after he became unwell in the wake of the Cabinet meeting and press conference at Dublin Castle. He received a test on Tuesday evening which came back as negative a few hours later.
A spokeswoman for the minister said at the time: "All who attended Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting and Monday’s meeting of the Covid committee should restrict their movements and avoid people outside their households," as a precautionary measure until Mr Donnelly's results came back.
As a result, on foot of advice from the chief medical officer Ronan Glynn, all Cabinet ministers were advised to restrict their movements, pending the outcome of Mr Donnelly’s Covid test. Dr Glynn himself was also restricting his movements given his proximity to Cabinet members in recent days.
There was stinging criticism of the manner in which the Dáil was suspended and then recalled with Opposition TDs fuming that political correspondents knew more than they did about what was going on.
Independent TD Michael McNamara described the day’s events as a “shambles”.
"We have a constitution in this country, three branches of government, one has barely functioned for the last three months, one is in self-isolation and we are sitting.
"The role of the Taoiseach is not to tell the Dáil what to do, the role of the Dáil is to hold the Taoiseach to account,” he said.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said he has "absolutely no difficulty" with "legitimate questions" raised by Labour leader Alan Kelly and Sinn Fein whip Pádraig MacLoughlainn who described events as “an incredible shambles”.
"I have no difficulty with how I acted, I don't think anyone else would have acted differently," the Ceann Comhairle told the Dáil.
Earlier, the Government was accused of leaving Dublin "in limbo" after announcing a new plan for living with Covid-19.
Under the plan, the entire country will be listed at a level two out of five, meaning that life around Ireland will continue as it has been for much of the summer.
However, there will be additional restrictions in Dublin, where Covid cases have been rising dramatically over the recent weeks.
“It is tighter than level 2 but not quite level 3,” said one source after a detailed discussion among ministers.
Several Cabinet sources have suggested a move to level three is “likely” either later this week or early next week, if the numbers remain high.
Wet pubs in Dublin are to remain closed and a limiting on the number of visitors to homes will come into force from midnight tonight, under new government restrictions.
Mr Martin said that the additional restrictions in Dublin — which limit home visits and force the continued closure of wet pubs — were needed as the rise in cases in Dublin were "worrying".
Responding to the plan, Social Democrats leader Roisin Shortall said: “The new plan was supposed to provide clarity about the five levels of risk, yet on the first day of the announcement, the Government decided to muddy the waters by talking about level two and a bit."