Opposition criticise Stephen Donnelly for latest communications gaffe

Health minister forced to clarify remarks after a series of botched Covid communications by Government
Opposition criticise Stephen Donnelly for latest communications gaffe

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was forced to clarify comments he made suggesting talks between the Minister for Education and teaching unions on schools reopening had not concluded.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is under renewed fire after he was forced to clarify comments he made suggesting talks between the minister for education and teaching unions on schools reopening had not concluded

On RTÉ TV on Monday night, Mr Donnelly said an issue had arisen that evening which meant Norma Foley was still negotiating with unions ahead of the Government's announcement later today.

His clarification is the latest in a series of botched communications incidences by Government in the past week.

On social media after his appearance on the

Claire Byrne Live show

, Mr Donnelly said: "Clarification re return of schools and meetings with the teaching unions concluded early this afternoon. Government intends making an announcement after Cabinet in line with plans as already outlined."

Ms Foley’s spokesman issued a statement which said: “Talks concluded with the unions early Monday afternoon. The department will be making an announcement after Cabinet that is in line with the Government's Living With Covid Plan.” 

Earlier on TV, Mr Donnelly said Ms Foley “is still in negotiations” with the teachers’ union and the matter is not yet agreed.

He said that comments from another government minister, Josepha Madigan, at teatime to the effect the deal was done were made in good faith, but a late issue arose and has meant talks are still ongoing.

“As of just two hours ago, Minister Foley is still in negotiations with the unions on this, and Cabinet hopes to be in a position to announce something tomorrow [Tuesday],” Mr Donnelly said.

“I have kids in some of those classes so I very much hope so myself.

"But all I can say is I wanted to double-check before I came on the show what I could say, what was going to be agreed by Cabinet, and what I was told was that the talks are still ongoing, and certainly what minister Foley wants to be able to announce, what Cabinet want to be able to announce is the reopening,” Mr Donnelly said.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly told the Irish Examiner: "The Minister mis-spoke – he was advised before going on air that union officials were going back to their executives with the proposals and understood this to be that the process was not complete."

Opposition reaction

The opposition has hit out at the confusion caused by Mr Donnelly's comments at a time when people are already under severe strain.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane said there was "a lot of anger" about the government's communications.

"There's a lot of frustration out there at the moment, particularly from people very upset at the government's handling of this, the mixed messages, leaks on issues and no sense of leadership or a coherent plan, in the context of people making very big sacrifices," he said.

"They're losing the confidence of the people. We need better leadership from government.

"Minister Donnelly's comments last night did not inspire confidence, but sowed confusion.

"Ministers need to get their act together."

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that his party would table a motion of no-confidence in Minister Donnelly if the State was not in a public health crisis.

"The public feel disrespected by the Government," he said.

"Given the performance of Stephen Donnelly last night the simple fact of the matter is, last night to a whole nation, to misunderstand, not just misspeak what clearly had happened, hours earlier, for me is beyond comprehension.

"Do not speak unless you know what you're talking about. The minister last night did not know what he was talking about. So now I'm saying directly to Taosieach and Tanaiste there is a serious issue with communications with Minister Stephen Donnelly and a serious issue of confidence in the minister in charge of the health service, vaccines and quarantine."

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