Taoiseach doesn't know if further reopening of society will happen in July

Taoiseach doesn't know if further reopening of society will happen in July

Micheál Martin said that concerns around the Delta variant make it impossible to know what might be done next week.

The Taoiseach says he "cannot speculate" about what decision will be made next week about the opening of indoor hospitality.

Micheál Martin said concerns around the Delta variant make it impossible to know what the next steps will be. 

Indoor dining was due to resume after July 4 but the rise of the Delta variant has thrown this into doubt. 

"The Chief Medical Officer, in discussions with me yesterday, is concerned about the Delta variant. But no decisions have been taken yet.

"We’re watching what’s happening in the United Kingdom, and indeed in other European countries, in terms of its impact. Critically, that metric of the link between the Delta variant and rising case numbers, with hospitalisation — does it result in a significant number of hospitalisations or not?

"It’s been a very devastating year for anybody in the hospitality sector, the travel sector, and in tourism because of the pandemic. But as I say there’s a process always in place in terms of decisions of this kind," he told Virgin Media's Claire Brock.

"I can’t speculate right now, today, in relation to this, other than it is an area of concern to the chief medical officer, to everybody, to myself included. But I just want to make the point that so far, we have managed to reopen society in a cautious but progressive way and a lot of people are satisfied and relatively happy with the manner in which that’s happened." 

"They don’t want that jeopardised or undermined in any way either, and anything we open we want to keep open. We don’t want to be going back."

Mr Martin said he "understands the need for clarity" from the sector, but said that a decision will be made next week.

Asked by Ms Brock about the decision to open society up in the run-up to Christmas - a decision which led to an explosion of cases and a near six-month lockdown - Mr Martin said that what happened was worse than the direst predictions.

"Looking back on it now, nobody modelled what subsequently happened. Because subsequently, the variant was a big factor, particularly throughout January in my view, and the view of many others. 

"If you look at the spikes of many cases it was something we hadn’t quite experienced before in the life of this pandemic. In fact, other European countries immediately, watching in, said ‘there’s something going on here, in Ireland, in terms of the variant.’

Reflecting on the last year, Mr Martin was asked about the Golfgate scandal, which saw the Irish Examiner reveal 80 people attend an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Galway, shortly after travel and gathering restrictions were imposed on the rest of the country. 

"That was very difficult again," he said. 

"Those early months were particularly difficult. I had just announced on the 18th of August significant restrictions – if you remember, particularly in Kildare, Laois and Offaly – so Golfgate jarred with the public mood at the time. And the following day an event happened which was certainly not in keeping with the spirit.

"I was personally annoyed. Dara Calleary, he got it straight away and very quickly. We discussed it that evening. He said, ‘look, I’ve made a very big mistake here.’ 

"And he resigned. And I felt very sorry for him too because he’s a very able person, very committed to politics in his life, very strong parliamentarian from Ballina, and I think would have been a fine minister. And I think, again, he will have an opportunity in the future.

"I think the European Commissioner, following that, and a Supreme Court judge as well. So all around that was a fairly challenging period early in the government’s life, which we had to navigate and deal with. 

"But I think Dara Calleary took a decision that will stand him in good stead in the fulness of time. He took his decision, he acknowledged publicly that he’d made a very big mistake, that he’d hurt people by that, and he was sorry for that. That matters, I think, in situations like this."

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Martin said that he had never had the ambition to be Taoiseach until he became leader of Fianna Fáil and said that his first day was one of "mixed emotions", but said that his return to Ballinlough was a "great day".

"It was a day of mixed emotions. Obviously, there’s nostalgia, there’s the fact of the sense of honour of being elected by the Oireachtas, by the parliament, as Taoiseach. 

"I’ve a good sense of history – so being a student of history I had that strong sense. Equally, the family couldn’t be there, given the Covid restrictions. They didn’t want any special treatment or anything like that. But I knew they were watching on the television. They actually had a good day, watching it at home in the kitchen".

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