A ‘rock’ and a ‘patriot’: Tributes paid to Tony Holohan as he steps back

Chief medical officer taking time out to care for his wife, who has terminal cancer

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan after he announced he was stepping down from his role to care for his ill wife. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan after he announced he was stepping down from his role to care for his ill wife. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins


Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ireland owed chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan a debt of gratitude for helping navigate the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Martin thanked him for his service and noted he had become a familiar face to the public during his time at the helm of the Government response.

Dr Holohan said on Thursday evening he was stepping back from the post to spend time with his wife, who has terminal cancer, and two teenage children.

“His work, experience and briefings helped people to understand the gravity of the situation facing us, while his calmness reassured us that if we followed the guidelines and advice, we would overcome these great challenges together,” Mr Martin put in a statement.

“Every home in Ireland has come to know Dr Tony Holohan. His leadership during the pandemic has given us all confidence that the decisions being made are based on solid public health advice. As a country we owe him and his family a great debt of gratitude.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, who just this week took charge of his department, also paid tribute to Dr Holohan’s “extraordinary commitment and professionalism” during the pandemic.

“He has been a rock, and he will be back as a rock,” Mr Donnelly said.

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team had worked “night and day” and had “brought us to where we are” under his leadership.

Continuity in this work was vital and would be guaranteed with the leadership of deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, who had attended nightly briefings at Dr Holohan’s side since the pandemic began, the Minister said.

‘Incredible servant’

Dr Holohan’s announcement, which came at the end of a department press briefing, also drew widespread comment on social media.

Former minister for health Simon Harris, who had worked closely with Dr Holohan since the outbreak of the coronavirus emergency, described him as a “patriot”.

He is “an incredible public servant and a doctor who has saved thousands of lives through his leadership. He has kept us safe. I valued his counsel as minister so much. Thank you to his family for sharing him with us. We think of them and respect their privacy.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also expressed his gratitude.

“For months everyone in Ireland has felt safe because you were looking after our families,” he said. “As you step back, know that all of us stand behind you and your wonderful family. We’ll meet again soon.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also took to social media to express support.

Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann and chief medical officer for the North Dr Michael McBride said: “Our thoughts are very much with Dr Tony Holohan, his wife Emer, their children and family circle at this time.

“We have worked very closely with Tony and his colleagues in the Republic of Ireland from the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. We very much appreciate all their support, co-operation and friendship.

“This is devastating news. The family can be assured of the support and compassion of everyone across this island.”

Dr Holohan has held the position in the department for the past 12 years but has never been more prominent in the public eye than since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He graduated from University College Dublin in 1991 and trained in general practice and later in public health medicine.