Non-political cross-party leaders’ forum needed on Covid-19 strategy, Dáil told

Shortall warns lockdowns not sustainable and price being paid ‘too high’

The Government’s strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic is not sustainable because “the price being paid is simply too high”, the Dáil has been told.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall called on the Government to establish a cross-party leaders’ forum for controlling and managing outbreaks of coronavirus.

Ms Shortall said the five-level risk plan is a good framework because it distinguishes rates and responses in different areas “but it is not a strategy”.

Continuing public health messaging about mask wearing and social distancing was not enough.


She urged Taoiseach Micheál Martin to act quickly on his comments last weekend about using “influencers” to get the public health message to all age, interest and ethnic cohorts.

But she said “our response to a surge is a lockdown or a close-down. That can work in the short term but is not a sustainable strategy even in the medium term because the price being paid is simply too high and we will not keep the public with us.”

During opposition leaders’ questions Ms Shortall said “issues such as cutting the Pandemic Unemployment Payment or extending protections for tenants are political issues - but agreeing the best way to manage and control the virus should not be about party politics”.

She urged the Taoiseach to establish a cross-party forum and said “there is no room to play party politics with such an important question”.

In the early days of the pandemic there was cross-party unity on dealing with the pandemic, but co-operation has fractured in recent months with second lockdowns and there have been increasingly bitter rows in the Dáil about the crisis, the growing number of cases, and the impact on business and the economy.

Mr Martin said that a new forum “in a non-contentious environment which would facilitate a calmer and more reasonable timeframe to explore these issues” would be a good idea.

He will give the matter “some thought and consideration”. The Taoiseach said “one of the challenges we face is that many people on the front line could usefully contribute to that debate”.

He pointed out that Dublin TDs and health spokespersons were briefed about the restrictions announced last week and further briefings would be arranged for party leaders.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times