The Taoiseach has defended the government’s communication strategy throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and has said the country will be facing restrictions for the next six months while the vaccination programme is rolled out.
Mr Martin said the main goal for the government throughout the pandemic has been “to protect people and protect human life”, but added that it is a balancing act with the economy.
“I think this country has done very well. The second wave, we are the lowest in Europe in the incidence of cases. We’ve had the lowest impact on the second wave on mortality, hospitalisation and on ICUs,” he told The Echo, but added: “There will always be the issues with who’s affected by restrictions and who’s not.
Asked if he felt there were mixed or confusing messages coming from government, given leaks following NPHET meetings which left many sectors in limbo for prolonged periods throughout the year, Mr Martin said: “I’m not so sure the public were ever confused. The public has a very instinctive sense of what to do and what is right.
However, he added: “When you close down, sectors will come at you.
“Sectors will come through their TDs and say: ‘We want to be open, we don’t think we’re the cause of this,’ and that creates understandable tensions and challenges.
“People will say they haven’t been communicated with, whereas in fact they have, but the message isn’t liked sometimes.
He admitted that becoming Taoiseach in the midst of a global pandemic has been “very challenging”, but said his previous experience in government and as health minister helped him “hit the ground running”.
“But, it still is very challenging because you’re balancing all of the time the need to protect public health, lives and the health of people, with the economic dimension and the livelihoods of people — workers, small business — and that’s been very difficult.”
When running for the general election in February, nobody could have predicted that Covid-19 would become so prominent this year.
Fianna Fáil, and Mr Martin, ran in that election on a range of issues — including housing, health, and so on — but does the Taoiseach feel his term will be defined by promises kept and broken, or by his response to Covid-19?
“It will be both ultimately, but I think Covid is the dominant issue and it’s all-pervasive. But I don’t reflect too much on that. My attitude is, I have a job to do with my colleagues in government, which is to get the country through Covid intact.
“We’ve had a very good performance as a country, second wave in particular...and the impact on mortality has been quite low in comparison to other countries this time out.
“Then, alongside that, we’ve managed to keep the economy going. Now, there has been a big fallout, don’t get me wrong. In the first wave, construction took a big hit. Hospitality, travel, tourism have all taken big hits because of the nature of their business. Entertainment, music, and the arts, they have no audiences, so all of that has been very challenging,” he said.
“It’s a constant balancing of that, but the overriding issue will always be the protection of life and public health,” he added.
“Luckily the vaccine has arrived through enormous efforts, research, collaboration between states, and pharmaceutical industry.”
However, he warned of restrictions for the first half of 2021 as vaccination gets up and running.
“We’ll be looking at restrictions for the next six months. It’s going to be a parallel process of vaccinating the public while at the same time keeping the pressure on the virus.”