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Martin faces wave of Opposition charges amid latest Covid surge

Inside Politics: Uncomfortable weeks ahead for Coalition as broad political consensus cracks on Covid policy

Dithering, delay and indecision were Mary Lou McDonald’s charges; then Micheál Martin and Alan Kelly acidly told each other to “cool it” as their war of words deepened over just who said what about a quarantine carve-out for teachers.

There was no shortage of charges for Martin to face in the Dáil yesterday: slow on boosters, slow on antigen tests, slow to react to worsening Covid numbers, but ever so quick to cut the PUP. We can see where this is going.

The weeks ahead will not be comfortable for the Coalition, as Covid policy again becomes a vulnerability rather than a point of broad political consensus.

Even if the worst projections of the Nphet modellers are avoided, the Government will still find itself answering all the questions cited above, plus those about the causes of the current wave – about reopening nightclubs, for example, when cases were in the thousands every day.

Of course, many of those same questioning voices would have been pushing for the full reopening of the sector a few weeks ago – but inconsistency is one of the few comforts of Opposition.

The Government will have to try and defuse each grenade as it is rolled across the floor of the Dáil towards them. Boosters, all things being equal, may look after themselves – there’s a lot of eligible arms now, and it’s down to the HSE to repeat its spring and summer performance.

One of the few recent welcome sights has been the incidence of Covid declining quickly among the older groups – a similar trend a few weeks from now in younger and vulnerable cohorts would be an early Christmas present.

But the thing that seems most tricky remains antigen testing – opposition from Nphet and the HSE has waned like February’s AstraZeneca (still effective, but not as potent as it once was), and the excuses for not having this testing in place are fewer and fewer.

There are legitimate debates over its usefulness, but putting that to one side, there’s a clear political reality here: the whole debate has become a proxy for the Government’s effectiveness – the way testing turnaround times or vaccination rates have been at other stages of the pandemic.

The longer the wait for something resembling a comprehensive strategy, the more the Coalition, and more specifically the Minister for Health, should expect to ship blows on it. There may be an incorporeal Cabinet meeting on this soon – something Ministers would welcome as a chance to stop the bleeding.

Meanwhile, Covid's fatal impact on people and institutions remains clear. The Irish Prison Service, which did such Trojan work to keep Covid out in 2020, confirmed the first death of an inmate due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Conor Gallagher reported last night how the IPS is battling outbreaks in three prisons that have resulted in significant disruption to the prison and courts system.

The service said it now faces an “unprecedented challenge in continuing to keep prisoners safe from infection” due to the prevalence of the Delta variant in society.

Away from the insults traded during the political theatre on the floor of the Dáil, Covid remains a confounding and dangerous challenge, one that the political system needs to focus its attention on, or risk the consequences.

Front Page

Covid is again our front page lead this morning.

Mary Carolan's front page piece takes in the implications of the €30 million Oran Molloy settlement.

Meanwhile, publican Jay Bourke's bid to secure a €12.5 million debt write-off rounds off our front page.

Best Reads

Miriam Lord on the Dáil dramatics yesterday.

Finn McRedmond on the British political bind spot on Ireland – and more specifically, Sinn Féin.

Naomi O'Leary is writing from Brussels on the prosecution of NGO workers, including Kerry-raised Seán Binder, helping those who seek refuge in the EU.

Playbook

It’s an early start in the Dáil for Simon Coveney, who is answering oral questions in the Dáil from 9am – and a long stint. He changes hats to do the same gig as Minister for Defence at 10.30. Questions on promised legislation follows Leaders’ Questions from Sinn Féin, Labour, the Regional Group and the Rural Independents before lunchtime.

Government business follows from 1.44pm, with the second stages of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, the Road Traffic and Roads Bill, and the Sex Offenders (Amendment Bill), if not previously concluded. Topical issues is at 6pm, followed by a motion on disability funding 6.48pm.

Over in the Seanad, Micheál Martin will address the house at 1.30pm, before statements on the investigation into the Rescue 116 air accident.

The Public Accounts Committee will review the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report on Covid-19 restart grant schemes at 9.30am, while at the same time, the transport committee will review the role of the Irish Coast Guard with representatives from the service and officials from the department.

At 9.45am, the disability committee will consider the alignment of disability services with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. Paschal Donohoe continues his sessions on the finance Bill at the finance committee at 10am.

There is a joint report launch from the PAC and the finance committee on the plinth at Leinster House, at 1pm. The report is on the processes and procedures applying to the appointment of senior executives in the public service.

Roderic O’Gorman is in front of the committee on key issues affecting the Traveller community, at 1.30pm, discussing Traveller inclusion policy. Officials from the Department of Education follow at 2.30pm on the same topic.

The committee on the implementation of the Good Friday agreement has an engagement with the independent commission for the location of victims’ remains, at 1.30pm.