Leo Varadkar: “There was no suggestion, not even an inkling, that Level 5 was being contemplated”
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is expected to make a statement on the matter later today.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that nobody in the government “had any indication” that a recommendation of a nationwide move to Level 5 was being considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) until last Sunday.
Varadkar’s comments come amid scrutiny of the timeline of events in which a NPHET recommendation for a move to Level 5 was leaked in the media on Sunday evening before a nationwide move to Level 3 was confirmed by the government on Monday night.
Following government confirmation of a move to Level 3, Varadkar himself was very critical of NPHET and Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan in an interview on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ on Monday night.
Then, on Wednesday, in his first press conference since returning to his role as CMO, Holohan confirmed that he had had a conversation with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Sunday morning outlining his concerns about the spread of Covid-19 before a NPHET meeting later that day.
The series of events has been the subject of much public discussion and questioning from colleagues of Donnelly and government party leaders in the Dáil, prompting a response from Varadkar on Thursday.
Varadkar said he couldn’t speak on behalf of Minister Donnelly, but could speak on behalf of himself and the government and said: “What I can say are the facts, that nobody in government had any indication that a Level 5 recommendation was being considered until Sunday, and this was confirmed by the CMO at a press conference last night.
“It was a shock. It did come out of the blue. We were not prepared for it, nor was the country.
“And what do I mean by out of the blue? It came on Sunday, only three days after NPHET had recommended, in writing, that it did not strongly support a move to Level 3 nationally at the time. And it was not in line with the parameters that are set out in the government’s framework."
“And I think a decision of such gravity is one that needs to be talked through and thought through, not just the reason for the recommendation, but also the implications, the people, the exit strategy, coordination in Northern Ireland, all of those things," Varadkar added.
“To clarify and to make very clear, I was informed on Saturday, as was the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party, that a meeting of NPHET was called for Sunday.
“There was no suggestion, not even an inkling, that Level 5 was being contemplated. Had we known that, we would have sought an urgent briefing that night. And that’s what could have happened and should have happened in my view.
“The first indication that I had that Level 5 was being considered was on Sunday evening, after the NPHET meeting had taken place, and received confirmation in writing at 8.30pm, setting out the recommendations and the reasons for it. For some ministers, the first they heard of it was on the news.
“Now I appreciate you may want to make a big deal about which minister knew what at what time on Sunday, that’s not the point.
“The point is we had no indication until Sunday this was even being considered.”