Supply of the Covid-19 vaccine into Ireland is “very tight” and there is a very low buffer, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Speaking at his parliamentary party meeting, facing calls for greater transparency from his TDs and Senators about the distribution of the vaccine, Mr Martin said the HSE is reluctant to give specific dates because of the uncertainty of supply.
Mr Martin also told the meeting that Level 5 lockdown restrictions are highly likely to continue well into February.
There's a clear horizon of restrictions continuing beyond this month, Micheál Martin told Fianna Fáil TDs and senators on Wednesday night.
“We have some distance to go, and the recent increase in deaths shows the devastation of this virus,” he said.
At a Fine Gael meeting, Tánaiste Simon Coveney spoke of restrictions continuing “well into February".
Mr Martin said the Cabinet is meeting next week on Covid-19 restrictions, and a final decision has not yet been taken.
“The numbers are too high and we need to get them down," he said.
Mr Martin also expressed his support for education minister Norma Foley who, he says “has done her best”.
At the private meeting, Mr Martin said the Government’s bona fides were clear when it comes to delivering on special education.
The Taoiseach, in reference to the strong attacks from Sinn Féin earlier in the day, said no party should be playing politics with such a sensitive issue.
“We will continue to engage with all partners,” the Taoiseach told his colleagues. "There is ongoing consultation and we also acknowledge anxiety in the workforce and population with a global pandemic. This isn’t a normal industrial relations scenario with a pandemic and we will continue to engage."
At the meeting, Ms Foley said she had huge engagement with partners and addressed union concerns. All of what she was doing was underpinned by public health advice, she said.
Senator Eugene Murphy said he wants “something different” for the Leaving Cert, adding the public is “behind Norma” on this.
Mr Martin also heralded the swearing-in of US president Joe Biden, which he said was a “good news story for Ireland”.
He said Mr Biden's presence in the Oval Office will help reset US-EU relationship. Ireland will be a bridge-builder between the EU and US in the spirit of multilateralism.
On vaccinations, he said 146,000 people will be vaccinated by the end of the weekend of out of 152,000 delivered.
“What Ireland is getting in we are getting out,” he said in the face of recent criticism.
He told the meeting that the priority is to get residents and staff of long-term care facilities and frontline staff vaccinated first.
Carlow–Kilkenny TD John McGuinness said he made no apology for asking the Taoiseach when St Luke's Hospital will see its staff vaccinated.
He and Senator Erin McGreehan called for greater transparency and clarity as to the rollout of the vaccine.
Mr Martin said the upcoming EU council meeting will focus on Covid with discussion on variants, genomic sequencing capacity and antigen testing.