There has been substantial internal criticism of the Government’s decision to move to Level 5 of the Covid-19 alert plan for six weeks from backbench TDs in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Ahead of their respective parliamentary party meetings on Wednesday evening, a number of TDs from both parties have publicly and privately expressed reservations about the impact the restrictions will have on citizens and business while others have queries what they say is an absence of a long-term strategy.
Jim O’Callaghan the Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Bay South and Michael Ring, the Fine Gael Deputy for Mayo, have been the leading critics in their parties on the highest level of restrictions. Mr Ring argued that the entire State should be put at Level 2 and says that even lower levels of restrictions were pushing thousands of businesses into extinction.
Last night, Mr O’Callaghan repeated his criticism that there was a distinct lack of a long-term Living with Covid strategy. “I just think that Level 5 is too much. We need to recognise that this will have very serious repercussions that we are not seeing at present.
“Hopefully we will not see it and I hope this [strategy] can work. I am concerned about repercussions in a number of areas: this is very serious for young people; it will have a huge impact on mental health, and also for the economy obviously.
“It is not sustainable that we will continue with a strategy of repeated lockdowns. We need a long term strategy that does not mean lockdown and allows young people to live their lives as normally as possible,” he said.
Another TD said that Level 5 made no sense as was and there were other strategies that could have been pursued. This TD said there should have been a nightly curfew with highly visible policing; a ban on GAA matches to prevent crowds gathering in homes with relatives for big matches; and a new law or regulation making wearing a mask mandatory in public.
“All of these would have been more effective as they are highly visible. Allowing the school run twice a day will also give a lot of people cover for unnecessary journeys they are taking,” added the TD.
The lack of a long-term strategy was cited by colleagues in Fianna Fáil and also in Fine Gael, some of whom said they had not been reassured by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan’s response on this issue, when interviewed on RTÉ Radio’s News at One.
“I have mixed views on Level 5,” said Niamh Smyth, a Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan. “There is an absence of a longer term strategy. I have been talking to colleagues today and none are happy about us bouncing in and out of lockdown.
“Right now there are more businesses at risk of closing for good. People are more compliant but it’s getting more difficult.”
A Fine Gael TD, speaking on the condition of privacy, also complained about the length of the lockdown which was “too long” and also worried about what will happen after Christmas. “Are we going to go into lockdown again?” he said.
‘Not as bad’
A number of other TDs said that this restriction was not quite as austere as the one in March and April and people were more cognisant of what to expect. “I think it is not as bad as the last one. People will be able to move about a bit more,” said Limerick Minister of State Niall Collins. “I am willing to give it a chance to see how it goes.”
His Dublin North West colleague Paul McAuliffe said that he agreed with the decision a fortnight ago to put Dublin at Level 3 but was not going to second-guess the expert advice that was available to Cabinet.
“The Cabinet, these are the people whom we entrust to make decisions and they have access to information that we do not have. So we need to trust them.”
Mr McAuliffe said that he had called for gyms and fitness clubs to be allowed to stay open, as they were important for people’s mental health. That said he thought people were more prepared for tougher restrictions and what was announced seemed more palatable than last March.
John Lahart from Dublin South West reported anger from some constituents who had complied and had felt they had “got a bit of a kick in the teeth as there was a lack of enforcement of others.
“There was a certain amount of stoicism as well,” he added.