The Government is facing mounting resistance to plans to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality and only allow fully vaccinated people dine inside.
The Irish Times reports that Taoiseach Micheál Martin was told that Fianna Fáil was now “toxic” and “irrelevant” to young people who were “up in arms”, during a lengthy and fraught meeting of the parliamentary party on Wednesday.
Cork East TD James O’Connor said that, as the youngest member of the party, he found it harder to defend Fianna Fáil and the Government, warning that it was becoming “irrelevant and toxic” to young people.
He also called for anyone born since 1996 to be offered €150 as an incentive to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
Sources said Mr O’Connor was approached by a Minister of State after he made the contribution to the meeting, with the Minister criticising him in a public verbal confrontation. Mr O’Connor was also criticised by several other TDs.
Mr O’Connor then left the meeting and defied the Government whip by not being present for a vote in the Dáil on Wednesday night on an amendment to the Land Development Agency Bill.
It is understood that he let the party leadership know he would not be present for the vote and no disciplinary action will be taken against him.
Meanwhile, at the parliamentary party meeting, Senator Lisa Chambers is understood to have said that she could not square the circle of telling younger people that they could work in but not enjoy indoor spaces.
TD Marc MacSharry also said he had no confidence in the Taoiseach’s ability to manage Covid-19 and described him as an expensive conduit between the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and Government.
He accused Mr Martin of being a “passenger on the Tony Holohan bus”, sources said.
The Taoiseach told the meeting his conscience was clear on the Government’s decision to temporarily delay indoor dining.
Mr Martin said the easy thing would have been to reopen but told his TDs “we took the tough decision”.
He is understood to have said that while Nphet had “set the bar high” in terms of allowing restaurants and pubs to reopen, the Government would keep “an open mind” on how they could be reopened in future.
Defending the Government’s handling of the pandemic in the face of criticism from his party, he also said an average of 2,245 more people would have died if Ireland had followed the Swedish strategy which he said some people had called for.
The Taoiseach earlier insisted in the Dáil it was the right decision to pause the reopening, adding that “we don’t want to divide society. We want to protect people.”
Mr Martin stressed how stark the warnings were and quoted Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who said that the Delta variant of Covid-19 “will rip through an unvaccinated population”.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Fianna Fáil party meeting that the Nphet modelling did not include changes made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to allow younger people to be given AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines.
He also told the meeting that “the biggest hurricane that has ever hit Ireland is coming”.
Earlier on Wednesday, the chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, also told opposition parties that the modelling used by Nphet on dramatic increases of case numbers and deaths from the Delta variant did not take into account the Niac changes.
This is despite the fact that Cabinet sources said the Taoiseach told Ministers this week that it had been factored in.
Amid continuing pressure, a Government delegation led by Mr Martin told representatives of the hospitality industry that a mid-July reopening of indoor hospitality might still be possible if new data from the UK indicated lower hospitalisation and death rates from the Delta variant.