Tributes paid to 'patriot' Tony Holohan as he steps back from CMO role

NPHET chair wants to spend time with his wife who has entered palliative care

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has promised continuity in the response to Covid-19 following the decision by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to step back from his role.

Dr Holohan announced on Thursday night he was taking time out from his work commitments immediately to to be with his family. His wife Emer Feely, who is also a doctor, has multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and entered palliative care last Saturday.

Dr Holohan said he wanted to give his “energy, attention and all of my time” to Emer and to their two teenage children, Clodagh and Ronan.

He made his announcement in a personal statement at the end of Thursday’s briefing of the National Public Health Emergency Team, which he has chaired since the beginning of the crisis.


Since January, Dr Holohan has become the public face of the official response to the virus, which has infected over 25,000 people and led to 1,738 deaths in the Republic.


A plan has been put in place for others to take over different aspects of his responsibilities, he said. His assistant, Dr Ronan Glynn, has been appointed acting chief medical officer and will chair future NPHET briefings.

“As a husband and father and as a public health doctor I’m conscious we’ve been through tough times over the past few months and many families have been affected by the course of Covid-19, suffering pain and the loss of loved ones,” he said.

He asked for his family’s privacy to be respected.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly thanked Dr Holohan for his leadership and his “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 NPHET had worked “night and day” and had “brought us to where where we are” under his leadership.

Continuity in this work was vital and would be guaranteed with the leadership of Dr Glynn, the Minister said.

Former minister for health Simon Harris described Dr Holohan as “a patriot, an incredible public servant and a doctor who has saved thousands of lives through his leadership”.

At Thursday night’s briefing, before announcing he was stepping back from the role, Dr Holohan said public health officials still had concerns about overseas travel and were recommending a cautious approach to any easing of restrictions.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.