Zero-Covid group rejects accusations of scaremongering 

Senator Rónán Mullen, speaking in the Seanad, said the Independent Scientific Advisory Group is 'massaging the facts' around Covid-19
Zero-Covid group rejects accusations of scaremongering 

Senator Rónán Mullen has criticised Isag, claiming it is scaremongering. File picture

A group of high-profile scientists advocating a zero-Covid strategy has rejected stinging criticism made in the Seanad that it is seeking to “scaremonger”.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Group (Isag) – founded by medics Dr Anthony Staines, Gerry Killeen of UCC, and Tomás Ryan, associate Professor at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College – has been accused by independent Senator Rónán Mullen of “massaging the facts” around Covid “in order to entice politicians into adopting a zero-Covid strategy”.

Mr Mullen cited a report that was published recently of the internal correspondence and workings of Isag, which boasts medics Sam McConkey and Gabriel Scally among its members, on its website.

“Why is such a group allowed to scaremonger without at least being challenged by politicians or the media on its internal conversations about which we now know? When a medical doctor advocates hurting people because “people hurt faster than institutions”, should that person’s views be supported by Oireachtas Members and reported uncritically in the media?” Mr Mullen said.

Their internal correspondence suggests that the group is not basing its positions on strict science, but in fact has been massaging the facts in order to entice politicians into adopting a zero-Covid strategy.”

Four weeks ago, the head of the group wrote to its members asking them to look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty and to go after people and not institutions because “people hurt faster than institutions", Senator Mullen said, under privilege.

“He stated that ridicule ‘is man’s most powerful weapon’ and that ‘the threat of a thing is usually more terrifying than the thing itself’. In other words, people should be scared into accepting zero-Covid,” Mr Mullen said.

“That correspondence reads like something out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Perhaps it is something from that book. The Social Democrats appear to have bought into the proposals. The correspondence suggests that the group has been deliberately adjusting its targets for zero-Covid in order to convince that party’s leadership to subscribe to the strategy,” Mr Mullen said.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Dr Staines, who is a founding member of the Isag, rejected Mr Mullen’s accusations of scaremongering.

He said: 

I tend not to pay too much attention to Rónán, I hope that does not upset him.”

Dr Staines said his group freely admits that they do not know what the best solution to dealing with the virus is and said “I don’t know” is a frequent answer in their discussions internally.

Dr Staines said he shared the points put forward by Saul Alinsky, as referenced by Mr Mullen, within the group.

He said those pointers as to how the group should operate were referenced in former US President Barack Obama’s memoir The Audacity of Hope, saying it was a reference for community groups.

He said that while Alinsky proposed attacking people over institutions, as a group the Isag does not advocate doing that.

Plenty of people are throwing stones at Simon Harris and Stephen Donnelly, we have not done so. Stephen Donnelly is doing his best, Micheál Martin is doing his best and we do not have all the answers."

Public health officials have rejected as impractical and risky the “zero-Covid” strategy increasingly advocated by opposition politicians. In unusually forthright criticism, senior members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) accused proponents of the strategy of making “false promises” that an end to lockdown can be achieved soon through virus elimination. 

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