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Ho No Dr Tony Holohan slammed Government pandemic plan as ‘load of horses***e'

New book also reveals how Health Minister Stephen Donnelly infuriated his department’s staff by coming into his office despite having Covid-19 symptoms

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CMO Tony Holohan, Nphet chair Philip Nolan, and Ronan Glynn, deputy CMO

CMO Tony Holohan, Nphet chair Philip Nolan, and Ronan Glynn, deputy CMO

CMO Tony Holohan, Nphet chair Philip Nolan, and Ronan Glynn, deputy CMO

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s attitude “riled up” HSE staff who felt he could be disrespectful and a little dismissive, the organisation’s chief Paul Reid has said.

In a new book detailing how the State handled the outbreak of the pandemic, Mr Reid says there were “very challenging” discussions with Mr Donnelly in his early days as Health Minister.

The book also reveals chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan did not trust Mr Donnelly with the advice he was providing him on the pandemic.

Pandemonium: Power, Politics and Ireland's Pandemic, by the Irish Independents Hugh O’Connell and Jack Horgan-Jones of the Irish Times, also details how the minister infuriated his department’s staff by coming into his office despite having Covid-19 symptoms.

Mr Donnelly comes in for significant criticism from Paul Reid over how he spoke to the HSE chief and his officials after he was appointed as minister.

Mr Reid said there were “a couple of challenging early discussions – very challenging – but that would be expected”.

He said Mr Donnelly would raise matters you would expect a new minister to raise.

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Pandemonium Power, Politics and Ireland’s Pandemic by Jack Horgan-Jones & Hugh O’Connell

Pandemonium Power, Politics and Ireland’s Pandemic by Jack Horgan-Jones & Hugh O’Connell

Pandemonium Power, Politics and Ireland’s Pandemic by Jack Horgan-Jones & Hugh O’Connell

However, he added “there was a style about how he went about that at first”, which “could have been perceived as being a little dismissive, not respectful, that would have got my team riled up quite a bit”.

The book also reveals the minister demanded that the department’s gym be opened so he could “blow off some steam” during the week, as well as a Microsoft Surface Pro so could “see how it shapes up” compared to an Apple iPad.

Meanwhile, the book also discloses details of a plan considered by government to develop a dystopian surveillance system using information CCTV, credit card transactions and mobile phone data to ensure people were adhering to social ­distancing rules.

Information from social media and banking data on takeaway habits was also to be collated and tracked under the strategy developed by consultancy firm EY.

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“What emerged was an almost Orwellian plan, bizarrely dubbed 1 Government Centre (1GC),” the book says.

The Government ultimately ditched the plan which Dr Holohan said was a “load of horses***e” in meetings.

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Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Nphet was concerned with EY being enlisted by the Government to assist in tackling the virus and developing social distancing guidelines. However, Mr Donnelly was supportive of the firm being involved in pandemic discussions.

The book also claims Dr Holohan believed his “advice was not safe in the hands of the health minister”.

“Senior Nphet officials, including Holohan, did not feel their advice was being supported or represented well by the Health Minister – certainly not in the way it had by Simon Harris at the start of the pandemic,” the book says.

“It was not that Nphet thought their word should be taken as gospel – Donnelly was free to disagree with them and express his own views – but they believed that once it was arrived at, it was his job to represent the Nphet advice faithfully to the Government, which could then decide whether or not to follow it.”

The lack of trust between the minister and Nphet centred on Mr Donnelly pursuing the use of rapid antigen tests and his opposition to introducing a Level 5 lockdown in October 2020.

However, Mr Donnelly downplayed tensions with Nphet, saying he felt he always had an “excellent working relationship” with his top advisers, praising them as “dedicated doctors and public servants.

The book also details how civil servants were “upset and alarmed” by Mr Donnelly being in the department after he developed Covid-19 symptoms in September 2020.

The minister developed symptoms in his department after the launch of a government plan for living with Covid-19 and deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn advised him to take a test, the book says.

One source said staff on the sixth floor, where Mr Donnelly’s office is located, were “furious”, adding: “I think he really lost the department after that.”

A spokesperson for Mr Donnelly said he followed all public health guidelines, isolating and working from home.

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