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Aftermath of easing Covid restrictions looks relatively positive

Inside Politics: Holohan to deliver update on Covid situation to health committee

Dr Tony Holohan is due to tell the health committee that while the pandemic is not over, it is ‘safe to return to the activities we all enjoy’. Photograph: iStock

We have enjoyed a brief reprieve from Covid-19 conversations recently but there are two set-pieces today that should give us an insight into where we are in the battle against the pandemic.

At 9.30am the Oireachtas Committee on Health will meet with members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to get an update on the easing of restrictions and what impact it has had on the spread of the disease.

The picture looks relatively good. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is due to tell the committee that while the pandemic is not over, it is “safe to return to the activities we all enjoy”.

In his piece today, Cormac McQuinn says that Holohan will deliver a broadly positive outlook during his meeting with TDs and Senators.

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There is always a catch with Covid, however. Dr Holohan will also tell the committee that Omicron, which fuelled the surge in cases after Christmas, is unlikely to be the last variant of concern to emerge and that “the global public health risk remains very high”.

Following the committee hearing, a Dáil debate will be held at about 2.50pm, again on the topic of the loosening of restrictions. TDs may be particularly interested to find out what the thinking is around the Omicron sub-lineage which is under close monitoring across the European Union. According to the World Health Organisation, the Omicron variant has three main sub-lineages: BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3.

The first was largely responsible for the surge in Omicron cases which resulted in record-breaking case numbers detected in many countries.

The prevalence of the BA.2 sub-lineage has increased internationally in recent weeks, becoming dominant in Denmark. The UK Health Security Agency declared the sub-lineage a “variant of investigation” and the concern is that it may have a growth advantage when compared to BA.1. We may hear today if there have been many cases of this sub-variant here and whether there are any concerns about its spread. The message to date from public health officials is that there is no cause for alarm at this stage.

Tensions in Government

The first sign of fresh tensions between the Greens and Fine Gael emerged on Monday night when a Green Party TD hit out at a Minister’s plans to reform planning laws by reducing the stages at which a judicial review can be sought.

Fine Gael Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke said that plans to build “tens of thousands” of homes were being held up because of the high level of judicial reviews. Green Party planning spokesman (and chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing) Steven Matthews TD then said the Minister appeared to be “aiming to exclude people from seeking justice”.

The latest row between the two Coalition partners is revealed in today's piece by Jack Horgan Jones and it's another housing issue, except this time about the Cathal Brugha Barracks, and it's a Fine Gael committee chairman hitting out at a Green Minister.

Last week the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan outlined how the Cathal Brugha site may be considered for housing development. He said the site would be considered for a cost rental project.

“We can’t have a situation where Dublin 2, 4, 6 or 8 are only affordable to people working in software companies or finance or tech,” he said.

“It has to be for everyone, creates a really good sense of community, a living city and town, and that’s why that land is needed for housing.”

The chairman of the Oireachtas defence committee, Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan, has a thing or two to say about it though. He says the comments are “one-dimensional” and “jumping the gun”.

Flanagan has said his committee will seek the views of the Defence Forces, their representative organisations and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney. We would understand if Mr Coveney decided to break out the camouflage for a while, however, given recent events.

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Playbook

Dáil Éireann

Topical Issues are up at 9.12am followed by a motion on the cost of cancer care from the Social Democrats. Expect Leaders’ Questions at noon followed by questions about promised legislation and then shortly after 1pm, questions for Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Occupying the Wednesday Government Business slot will be a debate on easing Covid-19 restrictions at 2.49pm. There will then be discussions on electricity costs and the planned €100 credit for households. The Dáil adjourns at 11pm.

The full and more detailed schedule can be found here.

Seanad

Proceedings kick off with commencement matters at 10.30am followed by the order of business an hour later. At 1pm the Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020 is up, which includes reforms and enhancements to aviation regulation in Ireland. At 2.34pm there will be a motion on search and rescue policy from Senators Gerard Craughwell, Victor Boyhan, Sharon Keogan, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen and David Norris.

Passport services will be discussed at 4.30pm and the Seanad adjourns at 6.30pm.

The full schedule is here.

Committees

The committee rooms are packed today with lots of interesting hearings scheduled.

At 9.30am the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment will hear from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on estimates from his department.

At the same time the Joint Committee on Health will get an update on Covid-19 from none other than Nphet.

Again, at the same time, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs will discuss the Russia/Ukraine Crisis with Prof Donnacha Ó Beacháin and Prof Ben Tonra.

At 1.30pm the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media (what a title) will discuss online disinformation and media literacy with Prof Mary Aiken.

The full agenda for all the committees can be found here.