TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has said that the plan for exiting the country’s lockdown is not “set in stone”, as he denied claims the Government is confusing the public.
A number of politicians have criticised recent communication regarding the timeline for schools reopening and the easing of restrictions.
Mr Martin said the Government is taking a “conservative” approach in easing health restrictions over the coming months.
Mr Martin told the Irish Mirror in an interview late on Thursday that “severe” lockdown measures will be in place until the end of April.
Asked on Friday whether there will be a nine-week extension of lockdown measures, Mr Martin said the Government will be “very cautious” in its decisions.
He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has given advice to the Cabinet sub-committee and urged caution in reopening society and the economy.
“The emphasis on the prioritisation right now is on schools, particularly the early years and then the Leaving Certificate cohort and childcare,” said Mr Martin.
“We will review it on a monthly basis, and the vaccine rollout may have an impact. We are beginning to see a reduction in the number of healthcare workers getting the virus, and the outbreaks are coming down.
“The authorities are saying there is evidence of the impact of the vaccination programme already, in terms it is reducing mortality.”
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said that people are getting frustrated by mixed messaging.
“There were rumours circulating, and the way that the further restrictions were announced in an off-the-cuff manner to a journalist, during an interview, that’s one thing — and the fact is this hasn’t even been agreed yet, so we are having a debate and discussion without any decision being made,” he said.
“There is confusion now, there is a lack of a coherent plan, lack of leadership, and I think people are frustrated with it.”
Mr Ó Laoghaire said while all agreed measures need to be taken in the interest of public health, confidence must be bolstered to garner public support for them.
“I think for people to have faith even in the measures and for people to feel like it’s worth it and it’s going to work, they have to feel that there is a strategy behind it, and a strategy thought through, and I don’t think people have that impression,” he said.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said: “The release of vital and important information through intentional leaks is not only disrespectful, it completely undermines the message.
“Families, businesses, and communities are sacrificing so much to help save lives and prevent our health system being overwhelmed. The least we could expect is professionalism and consideration from the Government.”
Mr Martin said the Government’s messaging has not been confusing.
He said he has previously warned of plans that it is pursuing a prolonged suppression of the virus in a bid to get numbers down.
“Nphet’s advice is that they are somewhat concerned that the decline is slowing down,” he said.
“People of Ireland have been remarkable in their adherence to the guidance.
“Nphet are saying they want to monitor each step. For example, when we open schools in a fortnight, they want to evaluate what impact did that have on the R number and the spread of disease.
“That analysis will inform the next step. So Nphet are saying to us that beyond a certain timeframe, they don’t want to predict that.”