Opposition parties criticise Varadkar’s comments about Holohan

Remarks were too personal towards the chief medical officer and went ‘much too far’

There was sharp criticism from Opposition parties on Tuesday of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s comments on an RTÉ current affairs show on Monday night where he castigated the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan.

In a strong excoriation of the Nphet advice to move the entire country to Level 5, and into effective lockdown, Mr Varadkar told the Claire Byrne Live Show that the recommendation had been sprung on the Government “out of the blue” and had not been thought through.

But on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar found himself criticised for the tenor of his remarks which were described as too personalised towards Dr Holohan and for “going much too far”. The criticism also came from parties who shared the Government’s view on the Nphet advice.

Hospital Report

There were private criticisms too of Mr Varadkar’s comments within Government, especially from Fianna Fáil Ministers who were of the view they were not proportionate, and had the potential of harming the Government’s ongoing relationship with the expert body.


The Galway West Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív said the Tánaiste’s remarks were divisive. However, he said reaction to the comments should not be overblown. “It cannot become Nphet versus the Government,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime.



Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the comments made by the Tánaiste as gratuitous.

“It is not helpful for a senior member of the Government to come out and gratuitously attack Nphet,” she said on Newstalk.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, in comments that were received as a mark of his confidence in the chief medical officer (CMO), Mr Martin specifically commended the work done by Dr Holohan.

“I have great respect for the CMO and Nphet. I have known the CMO for a long time and served with him during my time as minister for health. At that stage, he was a deputy CMO and worked with me on the SARS-CoV-2 situation.

“What must also be acknowledged, and I believe the CMO does, is simply that the impact of moving to Level 5 would have been severe on the lives of many people,” he said.

Ms McDonald said Monday was a “critical day” in the fight against Covid-19 and the vulnerabilities Ireland faced were down to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste because the lack of intensive care unit beds showed a “decade of failure” from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“In 2009 we had 289 intensive care beds. Now we have 280. We had more a decade ago,” she said.

While supporting the decision not to go to Level 5, Ms McDonald expressed doubt as to the Government’s assurances on being winter ready.


Labour leader Alan Kelly said Monday was not a good day. “Division and blame won’t help anyone right now. We need to pull together and get everyone on board with sticking with Level 3 for the next few weeks.”

The party’s transport spokesman, Duncan Smith, said that with sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases, the stakes were extremely high.

“Leo Varadkar going in two-footed to take man and ball is destabilising,” he said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said Mr Varadkar’s attack “was unwarranted and unhelpful. It served as a serious distraction from the task in hand, which is to encourage us to work together.”

Richard Boyd-Barrett of People Before Profit said Mr Varadkar’s comments were “a cynical, political move” to deflect the Government’s failure to build ICU, hospital and test-and-trace capacity.

Paul Murphy of Rise lambasted the Tánaiste’s comments as “disgraceful”. He also criticised the decision not to elevate the alert to Level 5 saying there would be “more outbreaks, more deaths and more lockdowns”.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times