Chair of Covid-19 committee criticised over ‘hysteria’ comment

Clare TD Michael McNamara told RTÉ radio of doubts over lockdowns and restrictions

The Oireachtas Covid-19  committee chairman, Independent TD Michael McNamara. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

The Oireachtas Covid-19 committee chairman, Independent TD Michael McNamara. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Members of the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee have criticised its chair for claiming there has been “hysteria” over escalating coronavirus case numbers.

Clare TD Michael McNamara told the Brendan O’Connor show on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday, that there is a “hysteria” about cases going up.

“Our health system is not being overrun, we know the numbers in hospitals are not rising, we know the numbers of deaths thankfully are not rising, and they are the important barometers we should be looking at,” he said.

He also criticised the rationale for local lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Labour TD for Fingal and Committee member Duncan Smith said he did not think the use of the word hysteria was “helpful”.

“People are still cautious and concerned and feeling their way through the pandemic. The use of that word is something I would have a big difference with him on,” Mr Smith said, adding that he thought Mr McNamara had been “very good” as committee chair so far.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane, who is also on the committee, said it would be “dangerous” to second guess scientific or medical advice.

Mr McNamara said on RTÉ that he saw “no scientific or evidential basis” for the ongoing closure of pubs and some other businesses, and that he did not “understand the scientific basis for the decision to shut down Offaly, Laois and Kildare”.

While Mr Cullinane said it was reasonable for the chair to have his own opinion, he added: “I don’t think the response has been hysterical. It’s a dangerous road when politicians start second guessing the sincere advice given by medical and scientific experts.”

During his appearance on the show, Mr McNamara also said Irish travel restrictions were more “strict and draconian” than anywhere else in the EU, and suggested the restrictions were due to concerns over the frailty of the Irish health system.

“When this whole crisis started we said we would flatten the curve to make sure our health system was not overrun… we successfully did that, now we’re entering into a period of hysteria because cases are rising in Ireland, as they are in every other country in Europe, ” he said.

Responding to the criticism, Mr McNamara said he had listened respectfully to all experts who had appeared before the committee. “My views have been informed by those experts but I note that there was not agreement or consensus between them. I have found some scientific and medical arguments more convincing that others... It’s not a matter of second guessing the science when scientists and world-leading medics and academics have widely differing views,” he said.

He added that he wanted the Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn to come before the committee “particularly given the apparently unquestioning reliance placed by the Government on his advice and that of Nphet, which he leads.”

Fine Gael TD and committee member Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said the State had “seen the benefit of trusting in the science. We have more to do collectively, it hasn’t gone away. But let’s keep taking our lead from science, not speculation.”