Coronavirus: Political pressure will not dictate response, says Coveney

Tánaiste says decisions on tightening restrictions will be informed by medical advice

Elizabeth Canavan from the Department of the Taoiseach outlines the latest measures the Government are taking to deal with problems arising from Covid-19. Video: RTE

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Any decision to further tighten restrictions on the movement of people to deal with the coronavirus crisis will be taken on foot of medical advice and not political pressure, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said a tightening of restrictions will be taken if required and advised by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan.

The Tánaiste’s comments came after Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that workplaces where people cannot adequately practice social distancing should close.

“If it is necessary in the days and weeks ahead to tighten the restrictions, we will do that and we will do that immediately on the advice of the CMO,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

Differences also emerged between Fianna Fáil and the Government over how some aspects of the crisis are being handled.

Robert Troy, the party’s business spokesman, called on the Government to introduce a 12-month moratorium on local authority rates rather that current plans to defer rates for three months on a case-by-case basis.

“The current Government policy for a three-month rates deferral are nowhere near enough for sectors that are in complete freefall and are being introduced ad hoc by each local authority,” Mr Troy said.

Income support

Work is ongoing among Ministers and officials on finalising an income support scheme for people who lose their jobs, as well as measures on providing childcare for frontline staff in the health sector.

Mr Coveney said the Government is “going to introduce a significant and supportive economic package in the coming days that will go well beyond what we have announced to date”.

“That will treat everybody equally, so in other words we are not going to separate the people who have lost their jobs to date from the people who may lose their jobs next week... We want to do something that provides, if you like, a guaranteed level of income for everybody across the country.”

You can’t have a unity government, you can’t have a consensus, if you insist on excluding people like me

A number of models on income support – such as providing a percentage of wages up to a certain limit or a flat rate payment – are understood to be under consideration.

Meanwhile, Ms McDonald has reacted angrily to suggestions from Fine Gael that it is not ruling out a national unity government as long as it does not include Sinn Féin.

‘Politics of exclusion’

She accused the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, of having the “politics of exclusion” at the foremost in his mind.

“You can’t have a unity government, you can’t have a consensus, if you insist on excluding people like me who represents a quarter of the voting population in the last election.”

There is ongoing concern about the ability to pass legislation through the Oireachtas in the absence of a new government being formed.

Senior Government sources have previously said the incoming Seanad, which will be elected in the week after March 30th, cannot sit until 11 nominees appointed by a new taoiseach are in place. Under the legislation, Mr Varadkar, as outgoing Taoiseach, is not empowered to choose them, sources had said.

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has provided Mr Varadkar with legal advice on the issue. Senior Government sources said there are “conflicting legal opinions” but added “there is no question that... any legislation passed by the Seanad could be open to challenge without the Taoiseach’s nominees.”

However, it was added that money Bills don’t need to be passed by the Seanad, but just referred to it.

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