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Covid-19: Lockdown ends amid Ministers’ fears country set to go on the lash

Many in Government are nervous about public departure from Nphet advice in plan for Christmas

Good morning.

Today, for the first time since October 21st, shops that do not sell food – or non-essential retail outlets, as they are known in Covid-speak – open their doors.

Hairdressers, galleries, churches and gyms will also be permitted to open, as the country moves cautiously out of lockdown and into the Christmas period. Restaurants and pubs with their own kitchens will follow on Friday, while two weeks later on December 18th, the ban on home visits will be partially lifted to allow three households at a time to mingle for a three-week period. It’s Christmas but not as we know it.

The Government has been urging caution. Privately Ministers fear the country will charge headlong into a few weeks on the lash before being forced to lock down again after Christmas. So Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was out at the weekend warning everyone to take it handy; yesterday Liz Canavan, a senior official in the Department of the Taoiseach, hosted a briefing in Government Buildings to convey the same message: everyone – go easy.


Last night, at the Nphet media briefing, Drs Tony Holohan and Ronan Glynn also laid down the law. OK, we may be reopening, was the message, but you’d better behave yourselves. Because you know what’s coming if you don’t . . .

Our lead story is here.

The truth is there are many people in Government who are nervous about their very public departure from the Nphet advice in the plan for Christmas. They fear case numbers will take off again and the Government will be faced with pressure for restrictions just as people are preparing to spend Christmas with their families.

Most believe they had to reopen hospitality and had to relax the ban on home visits, whatever Nphet said. But they will be watching the case numbers nervously in the coming days and weeks.

Here's a useful guide on what you can and can't do. Meanwhile, Nphet also recommends that if you're going to visit elderly relatives, don't go socialising.

Sinn Féin TD’s tweet the latest skirmish in history wars

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who is the chair of the powerful Public Accounts Committee, is in a spot of bother. He chipped in to the national discourse at the weekend with a tweet that celebrated the Kilmichael ambush during the War of Independent and – rather more controversially – the ambush by the Provisional IRA in 1979 that saw 18 British soldiers killed.

He linked the two military actions as essentially part of the same struggle – a contention held as fiercely by Sinn Féin as it is disputed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the others of what Stanley describes as the Free State establishment.

The fact that a Sinn Féin TD approves of IRA actions during the Troubles is hardly surprising; this was, after all, the whole point of the party at the time. But in the post-peace-process era, with Sinn Féin’s eyes firmly on Government in Dublin, such sentiments are supposed to be kept private. Not because most people in the party don’t believe them – they do – but because it is not politically advantageous to advertise it.

In a way, this is a minor political controversy, but in another way it is very important because it also tells us something big about the newly emerged and important divisions in Irish politics.

Jennifer Bray's report is here.

Anyway, the party will be keener to talk about the refusal of the British government (again) to keep its promise to hold an independent inquiry into the killing of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. That report is here.

Best reads

The Fiscal Council has criticised the Government for its huge spending increases this year, many of which will outlast the pandemic.

Exactly one month from Brexit, Simon Carswell talks to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Air pollution in Dublin is back.

Fintan O'Toole carefully enters the trans debate.

Meanwhile, a Cavan priest will not be dictated to by a "pagan" government.

Additional recommendation: the Inside Politics podcast. We had a good discussion last Friday on the podcast about the prospects for a united Ireland, following the publication of a report by University College London on how referendums might be held North and South. You can find it here.

And if that tickles your fancy, you might like this: we are holding an end-of-year discussion with special guests Jennifer O'Connell and Fintan O'Toole next week. It's a ticketed event, but Irish Times subscribers get them half price. Details are here.


The Cabinet meets this morning – among the issues to be discussed is this – and Dáil business gets under way with Leaders' Questions at 2pm. Full schedule, which includes that contested Government proposal to increase funding to the greyhound industry, is here.

The Seanad is also sitting to debate the latest Brexit legislation, while it's a busy day at the committees, where the justice committee will begin deliberation on the Bill proposed by Minster for Justice Helen McEntee to criminalise "revenge porn". Full schedule is here.

Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations continue. You might have heard this before, but it’s a crucial week. Really, this time it is. Even more crucial than the other times – 24 days to Christmas, 31 to Brexit.