‘It needed to be said’ – public praise for Varadkar's criticism of Nphet

Emails show support for Tánaiste’s stand on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's criticism of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live programme in October was supported by most people who wrote to him over his remarks.

Newly disclosed emails from the public show the vast majority of people who felt compelled to write to the Tánaiste about his remarks backed him after a television appearance that showed, for the first time, very public division between the Government and its public health advisers.

Some 55 people who wrote to Mr Varadkar supported his condemnation of Nphet for making its sudden proposal that Level 5 restrictions be imposed to suppress the spread of coronavirus.

Hospital Report

Thirteen people criticised the Tánaiste for saying he did not feel Nphet's proposal "had been thought through" and that the leaked advice from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and other members advising a move to Level 5 had blindsided them "to land something like this on a Sunday night, without prior consultation".



A number of emails took issue with Mr Varadkar for personalising the situation when he said that while Nphet members were qualified in health matters, none “would have faced being on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment” or having to tell somebody they were losing their job.

Despite Mr Varadkar's criticism, the Government eventually agreed to move Ireland to Level 5 restrictions later in October in response to an increasing number of virus cases.

The identities of the people emailing the Tánaiste's Oireachtas email address in response to his TV appearance on October 5th were not disclosed by his office when they were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The owner of a “small green company” who employs 14 people in the west of the country praised Mr Varadkar, writing that he was “perfectly correct” in his remarks and that the “voice of small business” gets “completely drowned out”.

“I find it unbelievable that anything you said was in any way upsetting for anyone. It was about time someone was brave enough to speak a few home truths,” she said.

One individual told the Tánaiste he said “what a lot of people are saying” and that it “needed to be said” because “never having experienced any pushback, Nphet appeared to believe they were actually running the country”.

“It is time somebody spoke sense about this crisis,” said another person who emailed Mr Varadkar.

“There has to be balance between managing the pandemic and managing the needs of the Irish people socially and economically.”

The owner of a Co Galway menswear shop told the Tánaiste that his staff and “most people I speak to are in absolute dread of another shutdown” and did not see it as a credible long-term strategy.

“We need as a society to find ways of dealing with Covid in the long term and that is where Nphet’s activity should be concentrated,” they wrote.

One person emailed the Tánaiste congratulating him on his performance on the programme, adding that there was “at last some recognition for those with alternative views to those of ‘infallible’ Nphet”.

Another writer asked Mr Varadkar to consider the “detrimental impact” of any “circuit breaker lockdowns on the people” after her husband lost his job for three months in the March lockdown.

“On Sunday night after I saw the news, my stomach felt sick, I cried, I panicked. I was not able to eat or drink. I slept for one hour with worry,” she wrote.

“My chest felt like it was about to explode and I was about to have a heart attack. I felt like the whole world was caving in with worry and anxiety.”

There was also strong criticism of the Tánaiste’s remarks in the emails received, with one telling Mr Varadkar he was “really disappointed by the manner in which you threw Dr Tony Holohan to the wolves”.

“When the country heard Tony’s voice we felt safe, well informed, treated as adults and trusted his judgment. Tonight you totally undermined the man,” wrote the member of the public.

Another individual compared Mr Varadkar's public disagreement with Dr Holohan to the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden the previous week, likening the Tánaiste to being "Trump last night and Tony Holohan Biden."

“It was not a pretty sight,” said the complainant.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times