Leo Varadkar criticises NPHET and Dr Tony Holohan, says advice "was not thought through"
"They don’t advise the public, they advise the government and government decides.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has heavily criticised the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) for recommending public health recommendations which he said had not been "thought through".
Varadkar appeared on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One on Monday night just moments after Taoiseach Micheál Martin gave his address to the public and while a press conference involving government ministers, including the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, was ongoing at government buildings.
In the interview, the Tánaiste said the NPHET gave “no suggestion” last Thursday that it would recommend the country enter into Level 5 restrictions.
“What happened on Sunday night came out of the blue,” Varadkar said.
“Last Thursday, when we received our advice from NPHET, there all in writing, there was no suggestion whatsoever that they were contemplating suggesting that we move to Level 5.”
The government announced on Monday that it would increase the country to Level 3 restrictions with Varadkar saying the NPHET recommendation to move to Level 5 “hadn’t been thought through and was made without prior consultation”.
— Claire Byrne Live (@ClaireByrneLive) October 5, 2020
He said the government sought some reassurance that these measures would achieve what NPHET wanted.
“We didn’t feel it had been thought through properly," Varadkar said.
"For example, we asked for some comfort that four weeks might be enough, given that it hasn't been enough in Melbourne and it appears it hasn't been enough in Israel.
"They weren’t able to give us that comfort,” he said.
Varadkar outlined his frustration that no consultation was made prior to the revelations on Sunday night that NPHET was advising a move to Level 5 restrictions.
“This will not happen again,” Varadkar said.
The Tánaiste was then asked did he have confidence in CMO Dr Tony Holohan after his labelling his plan as crazy and dismantling it.
“I did not say it was crazy. I said it was not thought through and there was not prior consultation,” he said.
“I have confidence in NPHET to dispense public health advice. That’s what they do. They don’t advise the public, they advise the Government and the Government decided.
“I do think one thing that needs to be borne in mind, very good people, 40 of them but all coming from medical or scientific or civil service backgrounds. None of those people, for example, would have faced being on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment yesterday."
Varadkar indicated the wider and socioeconomic impacts a return to lockdown would have on the country were considered by the cabinet in making its decision.
He also stated the HSE had not been consulted prior to NPHET's recommendation and the CEO of the HSE Paul Reid did not share NPHET's view that hospitals were imminently facing being overwhelmed.