No major reopening of economy likely after March 5th, says Taoiseach

Martin says hospitality sector must wait until vaccination programme well advanced

The hospitality sector will have to wait for an increased rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme before it can open, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin said he did not “see major reopening of the economy on March 5th” – the date that Level 5 curbs are in place until – and that the Government would take a “cautious and conservative approach” to lifting restrictions.

Stating that the hospitality sector’s reopening would be delayed until the inoculation programme was much further progressed, he added, “I’m not looking at the whole of hospitality – there can be different approaches”.

Hospital Report

But he said he believed “we will have a critical mass vaccinated by late summer”.


“And I anticipate that as we move into quarter two and quarter three, the issue will become vaccine administration as opposed to a supply issue.”

Speaking about the rollout of the vaccination programme in a wide-ranging interview on RTÉ’s This week programme, Mr Martin said, “we have to be careful about giving precision decisions” around vaccine dates because “it does depend on supply”.

He said the Government had so far fulfilled the commitments they made to having nursing homes residents and staff vaccinated, bar those with Covid-19 outbreaks.

They were moving to vaccinate those over 70, he said. The target date for completion of vaccination of that cohort was the end of March and Mr Martin said “we have a back-up plan” if the AstraZeneca supplies do not materialise, with other vaccines.

“We’re getting increased volumes from Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was expected in April,” he said.

The Taoiseach said he was being straight with people. He could not give precise numbers given the volatility in supply. Ireland was down 300,000 doses that were expected from AstraZeneca, from 1.4 million to 1.1 million but he said “we may pick it up again”.

“I do believe the rollout so far has been in line with commitments made”. He understood people’s impatience but said, “we don’t control the external environment around the manufacture of the vaccine”.

He reiterated that the priority was to reopen primary schools on a phased basis with special needs schools first, and the construction sector, if virus cases get down below 1,000 daily.

Mr Martin also said “there may be news this week” about options for the Leaving Certificate.

The examination advisory committee had been meeting but they wanted to ensure that when an announcement is made that “all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed”.

“I do get the point that Leaving Certificate students do not have classroom time – that is a very important consideration in terms of the options.”

The Taoiseach said there were differing views from the wider student body but “what is clear that we do need to bring clarity and reduce stress”.

He also said he did not anticipate a leadership contest within Fianna Fáil when the his term as taoiseach finishes at the end of 2022.

Mr Martin also said he did not believe there would be a Border poll within the next five years and he deflected suggestions that he was softening the party’s opposition to coalition with Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin is a “party of division” he said and wanted “to force a divisive debate” in the State, adding that he was taken aback about “the degree to which they’re playing politics with Covid-19”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times