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Vaccine roll-out Micheál Martin says 'nothing has changed' in drive to meet 80pc vaccination mark by July 1

The Taoiseach was called on by Labour Party leader Alan Kelly to recognise and acknowledge that the Government’s landmark promise would not be reached

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Micheál Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Micheál Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

If the Johnson & Johnson one-shot Covid jab is approved tomorrow it will add 600,000 vaccines over April, May and June, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Micheál Martin said that “nothing has changed” in the Government’s aim to ensure that 80pc of the adult population was given or offered its first vaccination against the virus by July 1.

He was called on by Labour Party leader Alan Kelly to recognise and acknowledge that the Government’s landmark promise would not be reached.

Mr Kelly cited new doubts about Johnson & Johnson over more blood clot issues, and the slashing of AstraZeneca supplies this week from 45,000 to just 9,000 vaccines.

He asked if the Government was still clinging to the claim that it would be getting 250,000 vaccines into Irish arms every week by the end of April.

Mr Martin replied that there was no change in the 80pc target and no change in the plan to administer a quarter of a million doses from next week.

But he said there were challenges with supplies and the AstraZeneca situation was “challenging”.

Mr Martin said it was “absolutely not” true that a new oversight group was being established “as a mudguard” on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, as Mr Kelly suggested.

The Labour leader said this was yet another layer to the vaccine roll-out and asked was it because of Mr Donnelly’s performance.

He noted that he had asked last year for the creation of a special Vaccines Minister, because of a “haphazard approach” to the vaccination programme.

He reminded the Taoiseach that HSE roll-out coordinator Damian McCallion had said he could not confirm the June target of 80pc vaccination would be met.

Mr Kelly said there was a mess in the roll-out of vaccination centres and the recruitment of vaccinators. He asked why there had been five stages of advertising for such staff when the Government said it had already recruited the numbers needed.

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Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)

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The Labour leader also asked when the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) was to meet on the issue of extending the interval between doses of mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna. Mr Martin said it would meet tomorrow.

Mr Martin said Mr Kelly should be supporting the vaccine programme and not “trying to undermine it”, but was told by Mr Kelly that he was engaging in diversionary tactics.

Mr Martin said the new oversight group involves the HSE, Niac and the high-level vaccine taskforce to deal with the ‘operationalisation’ of public health advice when it came to vaccinations.

Meanwhile Mr Martin said the Government is to look next week at restoring public religious worship in May.

Former minister Seán Canney, now an Independent TD, told Mr Martin that churches were “safer than supermarkets” which have remained open throughout the pandemic.

He said many Church leaders consider it a breach of trust that holding unauthorised services had been added to a regulation against illegal gatherings, punishable by a large fine.

The Taoiseach replied that it was a general legal precaution and the Government was not “anti-religious” in any way. The only motivation was to protect public health and save lives.

Mr Canney said: “I know a lot of people in my constituency for whom it was part of their daily routine, especially the retired, to go to Mass daily.

"They would have probably 20 or 30 people there, it was part of their socialisation, and they went probably for a cup of coffee some days.”

He added: “I think a church is a hell of a lot safer place to go to Mass, where you have social distancing than actually going to a supermarket.

“The churches were closed again after Christmas. People are longing to get back to public worship, to receive the sacraments, and to do it in a way that complies with restrictions and with social distancing.”

Mr Martin replied that he regarded religious worship as “a very fundamental right in any democratic society”.

“In ordinary times would not apply such restrictions on people, but a global pandemic is such a context."

The Government was increasing the numbers allowed to attend funerals to 25 from next Monday, which was still very difficult for families who have suffered bereavement, he said, adding that it was one of the worst aspects of Covid-19.

“But I think it needs to be said very loud and clear. The only motivation of Government is to protect life and to protect people from severe illness.

“There is no other motivation. The Government isn’t anti-religious and not out to suppress religious worship. Any suggestions to the contrary is deeply offensive and wrong and unfair.”

The regulation to punish illegal religious gatherings was one that “covers all indoor gatherings, which internationally have proven to be responsible for a lot of spread of infecton”.

But he added: “We will be looking at this situation next week.”

Mr Canney said categorising religion with the opening of museums was “a bit off” and that religious ceremonies played a vital role in society.

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