Miriam Lord: Cabinet’s crescendo of chaos reaches its climax

Opposition TDs go ballistic over ‘bonkers’ and ‘bananas’ decision to delay reopening

The Taoiseach announced that indoor dining will not reopen until there is a workable plan for how customers can prove they have been vaccinated. This plan will be presented before July 19th - but no decision has yet to be made on when indoor dining will return. Video: RTE/Pool

 

“We are enjoying each other’s company again,” said Micheál Martin, making an unwelcome appearance at the doors of Government Buildings.

Sorry, Taoiseach. Not in this case.

Definitely wide of the mark – unless he decided to use the royal “we” in his latest address to the nation.

The scheduling of this one gave the game away. No time for the usual teatime musings about everyone pulling together and better days ahead. This was a quick, nip outside before lunch job to break the bad news about the Great Reopening.

“Sorry about this, folks, but something has come up on the indoor dining front. Haven’t a clue what’s happening, to be honest, but there’s going to be a bit of a delay and it’s not looking the best.

“We have to figure out how to make the business owners restrict their services to the vaccinated sociable oldies. Unvaxxed kids can drink outside when they aren’t inside waiting on tables. We never saw this one coming. Right, ’bye.”

Or words to that effect.

Six minutes at lunchtime to deliver a sucker punch to the floundering hospitality industry and then tee up a logistical nightmare for restaurateurs and publicans desperate to get going again.

Six minutes was all it took, but it was long enough for opposition TDs settling into their snowflake seats in the Convention Centre Dáil to work up a head of steam before the week’s proceedings.

And in the meantime, there was double that amount of time and a few minutes more for the Minister for Health to explain everything and provide much needed reassurance on the News at One.

Don’t panic!

Lower profile

We haven’t seen or heard much from the Minister of late. He appeared to be keeping a lower profile than usual, for some inexplicable reason.

Stephen “Gonelly” is what some people were calling him. But he resurfaced in the nick of time on Tuesday to put minds at rest over the Government’s response to the menacing Delta strain while revealing the contingency plan it has been working on for the past couple of months in the always-possible event of a Covid variant going rogue and threatening the Grand Reopening.

Sadly, despite efforts by RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson, Stephen Donnelly was unable to produce any evidence of a contingency plan. Nor was he able to give a timeline for when indoor dining might resume.

He is aware of hospitality models operating in other countries, which the Government is going to examine. “But what we want to do first is listen very carefully to the industry this week,” said the Minister. “Now we need to go into listening mode... We want to spend a lot of time listening... We will want to have a conversation.”

He may not have noticed, but representatives of the pub and restaurant sector are blue in the face from shouting at him and his Government over the past year.

Fortunately, the Minister for Health was much clearer on international travel. He was clear with himself that what the Government requires people to do is at complete variance with what EU law allows them to do, and that’s very clear.

Bryan Dobson sounded utterly baffled.

But this is a very serious situation. The Cabinet does not want to push back the resumption of indoor hospitality, but Nphet presented it with an appalling medical vista if it goes ahead.

Bombshell

It was a last-minute bombshell landed on the Government the night before its planned announcement on easing some restrictions.

“So there were three scenarios,” explained Donnelly. “An optimistic, a pessimistic and the two central cases, the third and fourth of which...”

Dobson, tapping in on a question posed all day by business owners, wondered why no outside, independent analysis has been done on the figures supplied by Nphet and on which the Government feels it must act.

“Well, that has always been the case, Bryan,” said the Minister, encouragingly.

“But is it good enough?”

“I believe it is.”

Later on in the evening, as this crescendo of confusion continued to build, Green Party Minister of State Ossian Smyth popped up on Raidió na Gaeltachta and suggested the Government should break its habit of a lifetime (and possibly put Nphet’s nose out of joint) by seeking a second opinion from the WHO or some such body.

Over in Government Buildings, the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, was going on about “hope” and “honesty” and “herd immunity”.

In the afternoon, those questions about independent analysis resurfaced in the Dáil, with Labour’s Alan “AK-47” Kelly and the Rural Independent Group’s Mattie McGrath (with noises off from Danny Healy-Rae) blowing twin gaskets during Leaders’ Questions.

For starters, the Taoiseach’s “we are enjoying each other’s company again” line didn’t last very long. Kelly and McGrath were not happy to see Eamon Ryan standing in for Micheál for the session.

The Green Party leader explained the Taoiseach could not be present in the Dáil because he was addressing the United Nations.

As excuses go, it’s a good one, even if the event was online.

Cook up

The contingency plan the Government is hoping to cook up within two weeks in an attempt to get the reopening back on track was given a bruising reception by AK-47. “Absolutely bananas,” he roared. The plan (it’s only a work in progress) to allow only people who are fully vaccinated or have had Covid-19 to dine indoors was criminal, unenforceable and shocking. “It’s amateur hour,” he cried.

Kelly, who is fully vaccinated, looked around at his colleague Duncan Smith, who is not.

Imagine, he marvelled, a situation where he could go inside for something to eat while poor Duncan would be forced to eat his grub in the open air.

“I would have to meet him outside the door.”

Poor little Duncan Outside the Door, shivering in the cold while AK-47 noshes away in comfort.

“Please, Mr Alan, can I have some more?”

The Government is telling the young people of Ireland their summer will be spent “sitting at home and watching Love Island because that is what we think of them”, fumed the Labour leader.

Mattie McGrath was beyond livid. “What is going on in that Cabinet room? Are yer ears completely dúnta?” he roared at Eamon Ryan. Will there be an international examination of Nphet’s “bonkers advice”?

Danny Healy-Rae was hopping up and down with anger. “What has the Government got against the publicans of rural Ireland and Kerry... Come out and tell us please because they’re being blackguarded left, right and centre.”

Quite right. “Downright blackguarding,” said Mattie.

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín was flummoxed. “Who knew that the idea of a revolving Taoiseach would, one day, include the CMO of this State?” He also wondered why indoor dining in Ireland is deemed more dangerous than it is in almost every other European country.

There were more ructions over a decision to move a debate on the tattered reopening to Friday. But Eamon Ryan said it was a good thing as the Government was still figuring out what to do and needed a little time to come up with a plan.

It was very reassuring. The Coalition wants to get all its ducks in a row first (before shooting them by mistake).

Stephen Donnelly, who was now being rolled out faster than the vaccines, appeared on Prime Time. By this stage word was trickling out of serious misgivings in the HSE about how the Government can possibly get its indoor vaccination plan up and running in a fortnight.

The no-contingency Cabinet’s crescendo of chaos reaching its climax.

For a bonkers and bananas Tuesday, anyway.

As the Taoiseach said: “Tremendous progress.”

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