Coronavirus: McDowell claims ‘growing public unease’ with official responses

Independent Senator calls for Dáil committee on Covid-19 ahead of House debate and Q&A on pandemic

The Dáil meets this afternoon for a four-hour session to debate the pandemic. File photograph: The Irish Times

The Dáil meets this afternoon for a four-hour session to debate the pandemic. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Independent Senator Michael McDowell has called for the Dáil to establish a Covid-19 Oireachtas committee to monitor the State’s response to the coronavirus crisis amid what he claimed was growing public unease.

The Dáil meets this afternoon for a four-hour session to debate the pandemic and question the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and Minister for Finance about their handling of developments and counter-measures.

Mr McDowell called for a committee to be established to seek accountability and transparency and said the plenary sessions of the Dáil with reduced numbers “are completely inadequate in terms of interrogating the figures and the official response during this ongoing national and international crisis”.

Last month the Dáil accepted party and group leaders would receive weekly updates on the crisis and that this was a more appropriate option because of the emergency than a new committee.

Mr McDowell said there was a growing sense of public unease with the quality and clarity of official pronouncements, despite the best efforts of the media.

“The problem is that extremely opaque and general language has been used to deal with issues such as what is actually happening to residents of nursing homes and other residential facilities,” he said.

The recently re-elected NUI Senator said a new government is not required to establish the committee, which could meet remotely and its proceedings could be live-streamed for the public to see the presentations and the questioning of Ministers and officials.

“Official figures may be seriously understating the incidence and outcomes of the disease and testing figures are impenetrable and unhelpful as far as keeping the public informed and confident in our collective response to Covid-19.”

The former tánaiste and attorney general said there had to be more clarity and accountability. “That requires the ability to question and be answered in public.”