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Government hopes Niac advice will give shot in the arm to vaccine programme

Inside Politics: Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines are set to be made available to under-50s

The National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) seems to take its lead from Samuel Beckett when it comes to its deliberations. There tends to be a ‘Waiting for Godot’ quality to the imminent arrival of its latest recommendation. Already politicians and health administrators have been waiting a week for its latest conclusions: whether or not the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) and AstraZeneca vaccines should be made available to those under 50.

As our lead story reports, there are high expectations within Government that it will give the all-clear to allowing vaccines from those two manufacturers for those under 50.

And what’s more, as the report makes clear, the advice may not veer towards the conservative. The “very least” that is expected is an extension that would allow those between the ages of 45 and 50 receive those vaccine brands.

But if the Niac advice allowed those over 35 to receive those products, it would mean an estimated 800,000 people between 35 and 50 would be eligible. That would be beneficial for the programme as large batches of Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) begin to arrive in June.


The key paragraph gives an insight into the combination of frustration and expectation within the Coalition on this matter. “Impatience in Government about the Niac advice - for which it has been waiting since last week - has been moderated by the universal expectation that the current restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots will be relaxed, boosting the acceleration of the vaccination programme.

“Senior sources say that it has been made clear to Niac that such a move would be important for the vaccination programme, which has been hampered by supply shortages and restrictions.”

With Leo Varadkar making optimistic noises to his own parliamentary party last night of a vaccine appointment being offered to everybody by June, there is growing optimism that the Government is getting on top of the crisis.

But will there be a “vaccine boost” similar to that experienced in the UK? Undoubtedly there will be a boost, but it might be short as historical problems in the health and housing areas will begin to take prominence.

Ballymurphy 10 non-apology

It was not surprising that there was an angry reaction to Boris Johnson's apology to the families of the Ballymurphy 10, the innocent civilians killed by paratroopers in Belfast in August 1971, just as internment was introduced.

Johnson said the events covered by the inquest were deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic.

“The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed,” said a spokesman.

It was a classic non-apology apology. There was no reference to blame or responsibility. Its delivery was also indirect, a spokesman conveying what had been said at a private meeting.

The UK government has obviously taken a decision that historic crimes will not be reinvestigated, instead focusing on the hazy concept of reconciliation.

Irrespective of that controversial decision to grant amnesty, the very least that Johnson could have done would have been to speak directly to the families.

As Northern Correspondent Freya McClements reports, the families have rejected Mr Johnson’s apology.

“It means absolutely nothing, because he didn’t come to us,” said Carmel Quinn, whose brother John Laverty was among the victims. “If an apology is to mean anything, it must be delivered to the families.”

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was killed, told BBC Radio Ulster it was an “insult” that an apology had been delivered to third parties.

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So the Dáil sits for a third day this week for the first time in yonks. And it’s a relatively full day. There are three pieces of legislation to be debated. One will provide for accredited grades in this year’s Leaving Certificate. Another is the Sale of Tickets Bill that is designed to stop secondary selling of tickets for events, often at multiples of the face value.

Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney will each be taking priority questions.

At committees, Aware and Pieta House will speak to the sub-committee on mental health about depression and other mental health challenges during Covid-19.

Israeli ambassador Ophir Kariv will appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the escalating violence in Israel (where Hamas rocket strikes have led to fatalities) and Gaza where Israeli military strikes have left many civilians dead.

The Public Accounts Committee is examining financial issues relating to An Bord Pleanála.

At Public Expenditure, Minister Michael McGrath is in for scrutiny of the Public Service Pay Bill, which restores pay levels to public servants to the levels they was before the economic crash of 2009/2010.

Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, will appear at the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee for scrutiny of the Sea Fisheries Bill.

The Committee on Disability Matters will discuss among other things the withdrawal of occupational therapy services during Covid-19.