Covid-19: Government urged to listen to questions from public about vaccine

New clusters reported in five more nursing homes in past seven days, Dáil told

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland had the biggest fall in Covid-related deaths of any European country in wave two of the pandemic compared to wave one. Photograph:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland had the biggest fall in Covid-related deaths of any European country in wave two of the pandemic compared to wave one. Photograph:Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government has been urged to listen to the questions people have about the Covid-19 inoculation campaign so that they “can feel right about taking the vaccine”.

Limerick TD Richard O’Donoghue said the State will “get an awful lot more with honey than you will with vinegar” in its approach to public information and addressing concerns about the vaccine.

He was speaking during a wide-ranging Dáil debate on the impact of Covid-19 restrictions that included a row on the urban-rural divide, criticism of the failure to pay nursing students, the lack of broadband and public transport in rural areas, the impact on non-Covid health services, the roll-out of the vaccine and concerns about nursing homes.

Minister of State for Health Mary Butler acknowledged that while Ireland was doing well as a country in dealing with Covid-19 “there are still 32 nursing homes with open clusters of Covid.

“And in the last seven days there have been a further five nursing homes that have Covid clusters.”

She warned that “in relation to nursing homes we cannot take our eyes off the ball we have to remain vigilant”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil that Ireland currently has the lowest 14-day and seven-day incidence rates of Covid-19 in the EU.

He said that the State’s hospitals, including critical care facilities, have not been overrun and Ireland had the biggest fall in Covid-related deaths of any European country in wave two of the pandemic compared to wave one

But Mr O’Donoghue, a Limerick county TD, criticised the Minister for the approach to the vaccine.

Accusing Mr Donnelly of “trying to push something” on people who may have a concern because they suffer from depression or anxiety or other problems.

“Ireland is a free country and people are entitled to ask questions about what’s going into their bodies,” he said.

“I’m not anti-vaccine but I like to know what I’m taking, I’d like to understand it and I’d like to welcome it.

“That’s where the message needs to go – you’ll get an awful lot more with honey than you will with vinegar.

“The Government would want to wake up and treat people as people that are educated. All they have are simple questions to feel right in taking the vaccine.”

He also claimed that Government investment focused on urban areas and rural Ireland had been abandoned. In an impassioned speech he asked: “Why do you think there’s 23 rural Independent TDs in the Dáil representing rural Ireland – because you’ve forgotten it”.

He said he was forced to use his car to get to the shops or to work, a taxi to Limerick from his house cost €50 one way, and 52c or 53c of every euro he spent on fuel went in tax “and where do you put the money – into the city”.

Mr O’Donoghue said rural Ireland started outside the Red Cow roundabout, in south west Dublin.

But Dublin Fingal Labour TD Duncan Smith said he too lived outside that roundabout and that the motion “exacerbated the urban-rural divide”.

Rural TDs had highlighted the impact on rural pubs, and the closure of churches.

Mr Smith said that he too could not get to his local pub. “I actually miss going to mass as well. This isn’t just an urban rural issue. Broadband is an issue in my constituency as well.

“This false dichotomy of an urban rural divide does an absolute disservice to this country.”

Mr Smith also challenged the questioning of the vaccine. He said that if TDs were really serious about wanting to get out of “this absolute tragedy” the “provision of a vaccine in an efficient way is the only true way of getting out of it”.

Dublin North West Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said politicians representing urban constituencies with the “poor mouth” from rural TDs.

She said urban Ireland had the same problem and it would be “much better if we worked together”.

Ms Shortall said there were many Ministers “who see it as their purpose in life” to fund rural Ireland and she added that if research were done on funding to rural and urban Ireland “the whole argument of rural Ireland always losing out would not stand up to any scrutiny”.

Independent TD Carol Nolan who introduced the motion, warned of the devastating impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the health of the community. Ms Nolan pointed to the 300,000 cancer screenings that had been delayed and the impact on small businesses and rural pubs, which she said had been abandoned.