The Government is not scared to make tough calls to prioritise public health as Ireland continues to emerge from lockdown, the agriculture minister has said.
Dara Calleary said pushing back the reopening date for all pubs demonstrated that ministers would not baulk at taking unpopular decisions in order to suppress Covid-19.
Mr Calleary’s remarks came as the Government continues to deliberate on a green list for safe travel and an economic stimulus package aimed at supporting businesses and workers worst hit by the pandemic.
The newly formed coalition, and in particular freshly appointed education minister Norma Foley, are also facing intensifying calls to provide clarity on plans for schools reopening at the end of August.
Mr Calleary, who replaced Barry Cowen as agriculture minister last week following his sacking, said public health would be at the heart of all the Government’s considerations.
“We made the tough call on the pubs during the week,” he told RTE’s The Week In Politics.
“We have shown as a Government that we will make tough calls, we’re not going to progress the (recovery) roadmap unless it’s safe to do so.
“It might be popular to do so, but unless it’s safe and unless public health stands up we cannot do so.”
Ministers are set to decide what countries will be included on Ireland’s green list for safe travel.
The list had been due to be finalised at a cabinet meeting on Monday, but that meeting was postponed late on Sunday due to the Taoiseach’s need to remain in Brussels for an extended EU summit.
Currently, people arriving in Ireland from overseas – with limited exceptions such as essential supply chain workers – are required to fill in a passenger locator form and self-quarantine for 14 days.
People crossing the border from Northern Ireland are not subject to restrictions on their movement.
Travellers arriving in Ireland from countries on the new green list will not be required to isolate for two weeks.
Only countries that have a coronavirus infection rate the same or lower than Ireland will be included on the list. That means Great Britain and the US are both set to be excluded from the list, as potentially are other popular holiday destinations such as France, Spain and Portugal.
People can still enter Ireland from countries not on the green list, but they will be required to self-isolate. That includes returning Irish holidaymakers.
The Irish Government continues to advise citizens not to travel abroad for holidays this summer and has encouraged people to have a staycation in Ireland.
That has prompted claims of mixed messaging from political rivals, who have accused the Government of adopting contradictory positions by designating safe destinations but warning people not to go overseas for holidays.
Opposition politicians have highlighted that people who have already paid for foreign holidays are unlikely to be able to claim back the money if the Government categorises their chosen destinations as safe to travel to.
Mr Calleary insisted the Government was putting out a clear message on travel.
The advice is non-essential travel is still out, it's not recommended, but we have to have a structure in place for business travel, for necessary business travelDara Calleary, agriculture minister
“The green list is going to be established purely because we’re going to be living with Covid for some time,” he said.
“And we do have to have a structure. The advice is non-essential travel is still out, it’s not recommended, but we have to have a structure in place for business travel, for necessary business travel.”
Asked whether the Government needed to also introduce coronavirus testing at airports, Mr Calleary said: “That’s going to be looked at.”
He added: “We cannot shut down the country.”
The July stimulus package is set to include a series of measures to boost the economy.
It is expected to deliver extensions to the wage subsidy scheme and the waiver on commercial rates.
Restart grants for business are likely to be offered, as are low interest loan options.
“We have to protect the economy,” Mr Calleary said.
“We have to protect those that create jobs. And, yes, there’s a lot of sectors taking a particular hit and I would hope to see them getting a focus in this stimulus package as well.
“But we have shown this week that we will make the hard decisions in relation to public health and that we will protect public health and public health will be at the heart of any decisions in the coming weeks.”
Responding to calls from school leaders for detail on the planned restart of classroom learning, Mr Calleary insisted “huge work” was ongoing.
He said ensuring the safe reopening of schools in the autumn was the Government’s “number one priority”.
There were no new coronavirus-linked deaths reported in Ireland on Sunday, leaving the toll since the outbreak began standing at 1,753.
The National Public Health Emergency Team did report 10 new confirmed cases of the virus, taking the total number of Covid-19 cases to 25,760.
Dr Ronan Glynn, Acting chief medical officer, said: “All it would take for Covid-19 to regain a foothold in our communities is complacency.
“As the pandemic accelerates around the world, we must remain vigilant here in Ireland. Every day, in our individual actions, we have the power to limit the spread of this virus.
“Our priority going forward has to be the reopening of schools and resumption of non-Covid-19 healthcare services – and every time we stay two metres apart, wash our hands, practice good respiratory etiquette and wear a face covering, we are working towards those shared goals together.”