Garda morale ‘on the floor’ and teachers ‘very angry’ after vaccine priority loss

The State’s rollout will proceed based on age rather than profession
Garda morale ‘on the floor’ and teachers ‘very angry’ after vaccine priority loss

Vivienne Clarke

Key workers have expressed anger and disappointment this morning, following the loss of their prioritisation for Covid-19 vaccination.

On Tuesday, the Government confirmed that the State’s rollout will proceed based on age rather than profession, once the most vulnerable and people over 70 have been inoculated.

The president of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) described the situation as “extraordinarily disrespectful” on Wednesday, while the president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said it was a “sucker punch” to members.

GRA president Frank Thornton told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the decision “downgraded” the work of gardaí and disregarded the risks they take while policing the pandemic.

“It beggars belief” that gardaí on the frontline were considered to be no more at risk than someone working from home, he said.

'Absolutely on the floor'

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advised the Government that moving to an age-based system would be fairer and easier from an administration perspective.

Mr Thornton said the GRA was now seeking a meeting with NIAC to better understand their decision which “lacked transparency”.

The morale of members of the force was “absolutely on the floor” in the past 12 hours since the announcement, he added.

Meanwhile, TUI president Martin Marjoram told Newstalk Breakfast the decision was “extraordinarily disrespectful” to teachers who had made great efforts to keep the education system up and running.

“It makes very little sense from our perspective that there was no consultation. It has made us very angry,” he said.

Crowded classrooms

Teachers would be expected to work in crowded classrooms and walk in crowded corridors in schools when there was a full return to in-person teaching on April 12th. “We have cooperated at all times,” Mr Marjoram added.

Mr Marjoram denied that he had made any comment threatening to use the return to school as a bargaining tool. “I made no comment along those lines.” He said he had “no notion” of the return to school being used as “a bargaining chip.”

The union was seeking engagement with the Government on the matter, he said, but it should have taken place before the public announcement.

The general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors (AGSI), Antoinette Cunningham, told the same programme that the change to an age-based system was “a poor decision” as gardaí were needed to police the pandemic and frequently had to operate in high risk situations such as protests and parties.

“This disease is about transmission” she said and gardaí were frequently exposed to the virus in unique situations.

“The Taoiseach asked people not to move about, yet gardaí are going from Covid call to Covid call. They are going into high risk situations. We do have a very unique case.”

Ms Cunningham said the Government’s decision was “very disappointing” and that the “biggest issue” was that the force was responsible for enforcing public health regulations. “If we get sick there are no alternative workers.”

On Tuesday evening, the Taoiseach defended the decision to overhaul the State's Covid-19 vaccine priority list, saying it will “simplify and accelerate” the nationwide rollout.

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