Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I am happy to acknowledge the points the Deputy made, which are very well made. We do have a plan for reopening the economy and society. It is published and is being implemented. It is also, however, a living document that can be amended, updated and clarified as we go on. That is what is happening. Ultimately, any decisions made on reopening the country, the economy and society are made by Government on foot of advice from NPHET.
I would not rule out the idea of having a task force, but by their very nature task forces are non-statutory. They may be made up of very capable people, but by their definition they are advisory, have no legal personality, cannot hire staff and cannot enter into contracts. The decisions are made by Government in the end. There is much ongoing consultation. There is, for example, much consultation with unions through ICTU and with the employer bodies, such as the Construction Industry Federation and IBEC, which is where the protocol came from that enabled many businesses to open in recent weeks. It was the unions and employers coming together with the Government. On Friday we produced three papers, and not just the public health advice from NPHET. There was also an economic analysis and a social analysis, and we propose to do that ongoing.
I accept that there are other models. I have looked at the model in Belgium, where they have a group of experts in charge of the exit strategy, GEES, which comprises people from different backgrounds who advise the Government on its reopening plan. I do not rule out doing that. We may yet decide to go down that road of having an advisory body different from NPHET that is made up of multidisciplinary advisers, as Deputy Martin would describe it. We do, however, need to be realistic about it in that there will still be lobbying and there will still be political pressure from different sources. Decisions will still be contested. One of the biggest problems we have in all of this, which is true in Denmark too, is that there is not an awful lot of evidence because this is a new virus and is a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. All the models are only models and all the evidence is pretty weak. This is the truth of what we are dealing with.