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Government is at Covid-19 crossroads as restrictions loom large

Inside Politics: After recent events, a new way of managing big decisions may seem sensible

As the country wakes up under a blanket of Level 3 restrictions this morning, the spectre of more stringent restrictions still looms large.

Despite the Government deciding to rebuff a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) for a move to Level 5, and despite Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's eye-opening comments on the same issue, he told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last night that a so-called circuit-breaker lockdown could still be on the horizon.

While some observers questioned whether he was conveniently keeping one foot in each camp, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly went on RTÉ's Prime Time and said that such a lockdown could of course still happen and it is implicit in the Government framework for living with Covid-19.

Of particular interest at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night was a conversation about the future of the Nphet.


After the very public head-to-head between the team and Government, it was natural that questions would surface around the future relationship as well as governance and reporting structures.

In his RTÉ rebuke, Varadkar said there would not be a repeat of what happened on Sunday. But how could he guarantee this and what would this involve?

Former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy last night gave a hint of what the thinking in the party is.

He suggested that the appropriate vehicle for future decision-making could be the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECG), which most people would associate with managing the challenges of severe weather events.

But his point was that the NECG was developed for any kind of emergency whether that be terrorism or a pandemic or some other major event.

In this new scenario, the Minister from the lead department would chair the group and take input from the key adviser who in this case would be Nphet.

This structure would only be comprised of State actors. Each department would weigh in on what it means for the sectors that they represent and they would agree on the appropriate response and how it is to be delivered.

Crucially, once there is agreement, a communications plan would be agreed.

“Everything is considered in the round,” Murphy is understood to have told colleagues.

The benefit of the plan, it was argued, is that everyone understands the risk, the potential impact and every department takes the decision together in a centralisation of the process.

The idea received widespread support at that meeting. It remains to be seen what Fianna Fáil or the Green Party think about this but the suggestion will undoubtedly propel the debate onwards.

At a time when the Government finds itself a crossroads, torn between prioritising lives and livelihoods, a new way of managing these enormous decisions may seem sensible.

Meanwhile in our lead story this morning we report that 2,500 Garda members are set to be deployed as part of a policing surge across the Republic in response to the restrictions.

Another Brexit countdown

It has been a while since we had the opportunity in this digest to count down to another Brexit deadline but here we are with only 85 days until the end of transition period.

In an alternate universe where Covid-19 had not infiltrated every part of our lives it is likely that Brexit would still be dominating the headlines, along with Budget 2021.

There is huge work going on behind the scenes to get Ireland ready for a no-deal scenario.

Today a number of Oireachtas committees will be briefed on preparations by various officials. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is set to update the Joint Committee on European Affairs on the ongoing negotiations and implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

The Cabinet yesterday heard an update about how ready our ports and airports are. Dublin Port could be an area of concern as Ministers were told that inspection facilities are still needed. Mr Coveney will signal to the EU committee today that the Cabinet will consider a new draft Brexit omnibus Bill in the coming weeks too.

Furthermore Simon Carswell reports today that the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has outlined how one of the biggest concerns after January 1st is the continued co-operation and sharing of intelligence between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Best Reads

Miriam Lord on the Dáil's dizzying drizzle of droplets.

Eoin Burke Kennedy reports on an interesting study from the ESRI that finds the economic damage done by Covid-19 has been "relatively benign".

Amid all the debate, almost two out of every three people think the Government should impose more restrictions to curb Covid-19, writes Paul Cullen.

Here's what the Opposition thought of Varadkar's remarks on Monday night, with Harry McGee and Marie O'Halloran reporting

Never a dull moment in the US as president Donald Trump says he is planning to attend next week's debate in Miami against Joe Biden. Biden says "if he still has Covid, we shouldn't have a debate."


One to watch out for today is the launch of the Climate Action Bill. Expect to see Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan line out together for this one. The Greens have been rather quiet in Government but this is a key piece of legislation which they demanded during Government formation talks.

Meanwhile, proceedings kick off in the Dáil today with a motion from Solidarity/People Before Profit on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment at 10am. Then it's on to Leaders' Questions at noon and the rest of the agenda for the day can be found here.

As mentioned, Brexit features heavily in the committee hearing schedule which you can find here.

And here are the day's plans for the Seanad.