By Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach has insisted he does not want to divide people or society as he defended the Government’s decision to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality and restrict indoor dining to the fully vaccinated.
Micheal Martin said “whether we like it or not”, the Delta coronavirus variant is far more transmissible and creates risks.
He told the Dail that modelling produced by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is “stark” in relation to case numbers, hospitalisations, intensive care occupancy and deaths for July, August and September.
However, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the Government’s handling of Tuesday’s announcement on hospitality was a “mess”.
“The Government is only now engaging with the hospitality industry,” she said. “It is truly a mess.
“This must be sorted and the Government must now deliver a plan of action that is fair to the hospitality industry but also to the younger generation.”
What has this Government got against young people?
Young people can work in pubs and restaurants, they can serve their elders, but forget about a drink or a meal after work in the same establishment. "Taoiseach, you can't do that!" - @MaryLouMcDonald pic.twitter.com/rAvqUAzO0u
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) June 30, 2021
Mr Martin said the Delta variant is a serious issue and a challenging one, and that will be the case across Europe.
“The advice from NPHET is to that effect,” Mr Martin said.
“Whether we like it, or not Delta is far more transmissible and creates risks.”
Mr Martin said the Government has reopened schools, childcare, sport, construction, outdoor hospitality and retail over the last few months.
“The decision yesterday is to protect all that,” he added. “That is my only motivation and the only motivation of Government.
“It is to protect that and to protect people, not to divide people and divide society.
“We want to protect society. I understand how difficult this has been for young people. I know it.
“That is why the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was brought in for students in the first instance.
“The threshold that has been set in respect of vaccination for hospitality is a very high one that will prove very challenging.”
Ms McDonald said the danger posed by the Delta variant has been known to Government and Nphet for “a considerable amount of time”.
She added: “How, therefore, are we at lastminute.com again, are we at 11th-hour decision-making again, and how are we, as I said, marching this sector up the hill only to march it back down again?
“It is divisive to single out young people who do not have the opportunity to avail of vaccination and to tell them they can work in this sector but they cannot avail of it.
“That is wrong and that is divisive.”
There has been widespread anger from the hospitality sector and opposition parties after the Government accepted a recommendation from Nphet to restrict indoor dining to the fully vaccinated or those who have immunity from the virus.
The Government confirmed on Tuesday that drinking and eating inside bars and restaurants will be delayed for several weeks.
It had been due to resume on July 5.
The Government said it will devise an implementation plan for the controversial scheme by July 19.
Roisin Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said there is “no clear plan or new date” for when the sector will reopen.
“Some 24 hours later there are still many unanswered questions,” Ms Shortall told the Dail.
“I accept this is a challenging position, but the public should be entitled to basic information on the background to that shocking announcement made by the Taoiseach yesterday.”
The rollout of #COVIDVaccines in Ireland is well underway. But vaccines are not available in all nations. Learn more about @unicefireland's
'Get a Vaccine Give a Vaccine' campaign on our staff website: https://t.co/SghfjbXN9I #GetAVaccineGiveAVaccine pic.twitter.com/6kgq1Mv3P6
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) June 29, 2021
Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the Attorney General has told Government that restricting indoor dining to vaccinated people is “lawful” and does not breach constitutional rights.
“We had initial advice yesterday from the Attorney General who believes this is lawful,” Mr Varadkar told RTE Morning Ireland.
“We will obviously pass certain laws to do it, but that it wouldn’t be unconstitutional, but that was an initial advice, he wants to consider it again.
“I have to say, I am disappointed with the approach of Labour and the Social Democrats in particular.
“Up until now, they’ve always said that we should take public health advice and follow the advice of Nphet.”
Mr Varadkar also said the Government will look at testing as part of its plans to consider introducing a domestic Covid certificate to allow people to dine indoors.
He added: “I definitely think we have to consider testing, bear in mind how the digital certificate works.
“It’s vaccine recovered or a recent negative test. That’s how the cert actually works at the moment, so I do think that’s something we have to give close consideration to."
Continued strong momentum on our vaccination programme. Well over 100,000 administered in the first two days this week. Over 4.1M done to date with almost 67% adults had a Dose 1 & 44% a dose 2. #covid19 hospitalisations at 40 & ICU at 16. Every day more protections. @HSELive
— Paul Reid (@paulreiddublin) June 30, 2021