Covid cases will come down if behaviour changes - Taoiseach

Martin to meet hospitality sector on State supports as TDs back call for their retention

The Dáil heard on Tuesday that restaurants, hotels and nightclubs are suffering from cancellations and a ‘specific response’ is needed to the situation they face. File photograph: Getty

The Dáil heard on Tuesday that restaurants, hotels and nightclubs are suffering from cancellations and a ‘specific response’ is needed to the situation they face. File photograph: Getty

 

Covid case numbers are in the balance but if public behaviour continues to change they will come down, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

He told his parliamentary party on Wednesday evening that if the R number - measuring the number of onward infections from each confirmed case - came below one it would increase options for the country.

Mr Martin said the booster campaign would be scaled up, while support would be forthcoming for hospitals, including surge capacity in private hospitals. He paid tribute to people adjusting their behavior and reducing contacts, which he said was having an impact on the course of the pandemic.

The Taoiseach also committed to meeting with the hospitality sector to discuss Covid-19 financial supports after a vote from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. He told the party meeting that €5.5 billion had been spent on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which will remain until April 30th, while €704 million has gone on the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), which has no set end date.

A motion put down by Senator Ollie Crowe, John Lahart TD and Senator Pat Casey called on Mr Martin and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath to meet the hospitality sector and for Covid-19 financial supports for the industry to be retained and revamped.

It comes after Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators met representatives of restaurateurs and publicans on Wednesday afternoon.

The Government imposed a midnight curfew last week as infections continued to rise, and there are fears of renewed restrictions if the situation does not improve.

Restaurants and pubs have been hit by cancellations of Christmas parties and other bookings as people scale back plans to socialise.

The hospitality industry has called for the EWSS to be extended at current rates into 2022. The top rates are due to fall at the start of December and it is to close to new entrants at the end of the year.

A number of Fianna Fáil politicians have backed this call.

The Taoiseach also told the meeting that he had spoken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier on Wednesday about Brexit, and stressed the need for negotiations to make progress on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Meanwhile, Clare TD Cathal Crowe for Clare raised the issue of wind energy guidelines, and Carlow-Kilkenny’s John McGuinness raised the impact of energy price increases - especially on hauliers. Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív told the party meeting that he wanted Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to come to the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting to discuss roads and rural public transport.

Minister for Education Norma Foley told the meeting that student teachers would be paid for work being done as substitutes outside of normal college placements - which was normal practice.

Quiet months

Mayo TD Dara Calleary told the Dáil on Tuesday that restaurants, hotels and nightclubs are suffering from cancellations and a “specific response” was needed to the situation they face.

He said many such businesses need the increased revenue before Christmas to sustain them during the quiet months of January, February and March. And he has called for an extension of the EWSS and the CRSS.

Mr Calleary told the hospitality industry on Wednesday that he supports the extension of the EWSS at current rates.

The parliamentary party concluded with a minute’s silence for migrants who died in the English Channel on Wednesday.