Taoiseach denies any attempt to stop Nphet from speaking to the media

Martin, Varadkar stress need for co-ordinated communication, but reject gagging claims

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Dublin Castle: there is need for co-ordinated communication due to the mixed messaging. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Dublin Castle: there is need for co-ordinated communication due to the mixed messaging. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has strongly denied that the Government has tried to gag members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and stop them from speaking to the media or in public.

Mr Martin also refuted claims that the Government prevented members of Nphet from speaking on the airwaves at the weekend, saying “that did not come from my office” and he was trying to establish how it happened.

“At no stage will there ever be an attempt made to in any way compromise the independence of the advice. It is so central. Members of Nphet will be facilitated in terms of appearing in the media,” he told reporters in Dublin.

“There is a need for work to co-ordinate the wider message… As Taoiseach I’m not into stopping anybody from going out to give public health advice. We are a democracy.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also strongly denied that the Government’s relationship with Nphet had deteriorated in recent weeks. He argued the Government’s decision to co-ordinate communication centrally had been taken to prevent mixed messaging.

“There has been a lot of confusion among the public with mixed messaging. We have been criticised for mixed messaging. Again I accept this criticism. That is because the Taoiseach has said there is a plethora of voices out there, people from Nphet, from Government and from the [National Immunisation Advisory Committee],” he said.

“The public often finds it hard to distinguish between all those different bodies, and which is the Government and which is not and who is speaking on behalf of whom?”

Co-ordination

Mr Varadkar said all bodies were now being asked to co-ordinate media performances. He said they were asking people to let the Government Information Service know if they were going on a particular programme so that they could get an up-to-date brief to ensure they were abreast of all relevant information.

“That applies to Ministers in the Government as much as it applies to any other bodies,” he said.

Both Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar were speaking at an event in Dublin Castle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Mr Martin maintained the Government had never tried to control or limit public health advice but added that work needed to be done to co-ordinate the wider message.

“Members of Nphet will always be facilitated by the Government in terms of articulating public health advice,” he said. “I have been crystal clear about that. Public health advice is central to our response to the pandemic and always has been.”

Earlier, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said she did not want to see letters from public health advisers appearing in the public domain that Ministers had not seen yet, which was something that had happened in the past. However, she said members of Nphet were still free to talk to the media when they got invitations to do so.

“I fully expect that Tony Holohan and Ronan Glynn, who are doing a really good job, will be out in the media explaining the details of this virus and why we need to increase our restrictions,” she told RTÉ’s News at One. “That is something they have been communicating to the public since the start of this pandemic.”