Daniel McConnell: Christmas with a lot less cheer

The decision of the Government this week as to what kind of Christmas we will all have is keenly awaited but it is likely many will be unhappy with what ultimately is decided.
Daniel McConnell: Christmas with a lot less cheer

People wearing face masks on Henry Street

The decision of the Government this week as to what kind of Christmas we will all have is keenly awaited but it is likely many will be unhappy with what ultimately is decided.

The leaders of the three government parties – Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan – met on Monday night as they always do but this meeting took on additional significance.

As Taoiseach Micheál Martin told this newspaper, the country is set to move back to level 3 restrictions from next week, but he cast doubt over large gatherings involving alcohol.

It seems the wet pubs are to be sacrificed again to allow most other areas of the country to re-open. Those business owners who have been shut since March are facing into a bleak Christmas.

Behind the scenes, members of Mr Martin’s Cabinet remain at odds over whether pubs and restaurants should fully reopen ahead of the usually busy Christmas period and the final decisions around the easing of these restrictions are not expected to be hammered out until Thursday.

“It is really tricky,” said one minister. “We would love to be able to say yes to everyone and allow all to re-open on December 1 but, as the Taoiseach said, the mixing of large numbers of people and alcohol is seen as highly problematic.”

Importantly, the Taoiseach said that whatever transpires this week, it will be the Government and not its medical advisors who will make the call, a clear reference to demands from some medics to extend the lockdown as opposed to easing it.

A renewed desire to counter the perceived dominance of the chief medical officer and his National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is emerging within Government and the Taoiseach gave voice to that. He said on Monday:

Nphet will give its advice but Government will decide how we exit level 5.” 

The Taoiseach said it would require “a national effort” to “get vaccines out properly and safely” with the cooperation from various State agencies once the vaccines come through the safety approvals.

While he spoke of the ambition to re-open, Mr Martin warned the arrival of vaccines is “not the moment to relax” but rather it is the time “to double down” on efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

His commentary reflects the fine line he and his government are walking amid building expectations among a weary public as to some relaxation.

While level 3 is the starting point on December 1, we know that some categories will drop to level 2 to allow families and friends to come together for meals and drinks.

As we are reporting this morning, it is the intention to allow people to travel all over the country for Christmas and for households to meet with up to two other households, which would facilitate family get-togethers for Christmas day.

If you are in a large family and you normally congregate on December 25, it looks like you will have to pair up with your favourite sibling this year. 

"The big gathering is unlikely to be recommended, but the Government is keen to allow families to come together at a very special time of year,” said one minister yesterday.

The Government will announce it decision on moving out of level 5 restrictions on Thursday to avoid clashing with the Late Late Toy Show.
The Government will announce it decision on moving out of level 5 restrictions on Thursday to avoid clashing with the Late Late Toy Show.

The weekly Nphet meeting has been brought forward to Wednesday in a bid to give time for the politicians to make their decision. Given the Late Late Toy Show is on Friday, there is a recognition in Government that it would be preferable to announce the decision on Thursday.

Whatever is decided, it is a huge call.

 

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