THE Sinn Féin leader has hit out at the Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, labelling it “inadequate”.
Acknowledging that being in government now “would not be easy for anyone”, Mary Lou McDonald told The Echo that the mixed messaging coming from Government is causing public anger as well as anxiety.
“At a time when the stakes are very high and people’s life is in the balance, at a time when people have been asked to make the most extraordinary sacrifices, when their basic liberties have been constrained... Government has to know what it’s doing and people have a perfect right to know that their government has a plan, offers a sense of direction, takes the necessary decisions, and is clear, coherent and united when dealing with a crisis of this scale. None of that has been present,” she said.
“What we have had instead is decisions that have been too slow or incomplete. We’ve had multiple messages coming from Government, and we’ve had ministers openly contradicting each other, sometimes within a matter of hours.
“That has caused huge public anxiety and huge public anger,” Ms McDonald added, quoting her party colleague who said: “The Government lost the dressing room.”
Asked what would have been done differently had Ms McDonald been taoiseach and Sinn Féin been in government, she said full mandatory hotel quarantine would have been in place for all non-essential journeys from early on.
Investment in testing and tracing would have been a priority also.
“Even as we speak now, a year in, we do not have the number of contact tracers that we were promised.
"We were told we would have a thousand. The most recent figures we have is we have 800. That’s just disgraceful,” she said.
Supply of vaccines was an issue, Ms McDonald acknowledged, but she said more clarity was needed in terms of priority and she highlighted family carers as one of the overlooked groups.
She said it showed a massive disconnect between the Government and people dealing with the pandemic. “If they were to become sick... who’s going to substitute?” she questioned.
An all-Ireland approach was also needed, she argued, highlighting the health minister’s failure to share information with Northern Ireland on incoming passengers to the State last year.
“Basic cop-on” should have been applied, Ms McDonald believed.
“I know better than anyone the difficulties on the executive in Belfast,” she said.
“I know it wouldn’t have been easy, but the lack-lustre approach from Dublin made it almost impossible to get the kind of all-island approach that we need.”
Asked whether zero-Covid or the Government’s prolonged-suppression strategy would be the way to go, Ms McDonald said: “If they were going for absolute get ahead of this curve, we would have the mandatory quarantine. We’d have the right amount of testers and tracers.
“Their plan has been very inadequate but it is a matter of suppressing and keeping this virus suppressed. We need to get transmission down as low as we possibly can and we also need to have built our defences.
“If we really want to get through this and stay through it, and keep people safe in the long term — test, trace, isolate, and quarantine.
“There is no magic, we have been saying this from the get-go,” she said.
“There is no magic, we have been saying this from the get-go.”