Findings of review into Ireland’s handling of Covid-19 ‘broadly positive’, Donnelly says

Minister ‘can’t get into any comments’ on botched appointment of Dr Tony Holohan to academic role due to ‘ongoing process’

The findings from the post-pandemic review of Ireland’s handling of Covid-19 are “broadly positive”, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

A group chaired by former UCD president Prof Hugh Brady was established early this year to identify lessons from the public health response to the crisis. The initial findings were presented to Mr Donnelly recently and it is understood that a final report is to be brought to Government in the coming weeks.

Mr Donnelly said the findings were “broadly positive” and that the level of extra deaths recorded in the State was “one of the lowest anywhere in the world”.

The Government has not yet confirmed if there will be a public review of Ireland’s handling of Covid-19. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he would prefer an “evaluation”, but did not envisage key decision makers being grilled over the choices made. He indicated that he would be uneasy about the prospect of “people in the future looking over their shoulders”.

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Asked about the prospect of public sessions as part of an inquiry, Mr Donnelly told reporters he “wouldn’t be opposed to it at all”.

“The country has just been through a very, very difficult period with the worst, most significant health challenge or crisis we’ve had in 100 years. So I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all,” he said.

The HSE is preparing for increased cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant driven by waning immunity and increased socialising indoors this year. A HSE source said a “doomsday” outcome that would see the healthcare service being put under severe pressure by seasonal flu and Covid was “not inevitable” but that the experience of other countries has shown that there will be an uptick in infection.

A source said there was positive levels of uptake – of more than 70 per cent  - among over 70s being targeted for booster shots, but that it was decreasing among younger cohorts. At the same time, systems set up to monitor for respiratory like illnesses were showing an upward trend.

Holohan appointment

Asked about the review into the botched appointment of former chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to an academic role, which was submitted to his department in July but has not yet been published, Mr Donnelly said it was an “ongoing process”.

Asked if there had been any objections to publishing the report, he said: “I can’t get into any comments on this. What I have to do is just respect the process and go through the various steps and then what I want to do is publish it as soon as I can.”

With a Cabinet reshuffle expected in December, when the Taoiseach’s office is due to rotate from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael, Mr Donnelly said he would “very much like” to stay in his current position.

“We’re building momentum. Our vision is universal healthcare. It’s one of the most important unfinished projects of our Republic and it is now within our grasp,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said progress had been made on some aspects around hospital waiting lists, but he remained unhappy at the number of outpatients waiting up to a year for care.

“I brought the HSE and the department together. I’ve asked them to examine everything that can we be done to this end. We’re looking at individual hospitals, individual clinical groups, and we want to really drive we want to really drive that down.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times