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'lion's den' Taoiseach does not expect Tony Holohan to be called before Covid-19 inquiry

He said he wouldn’t like to see people having to “mind their Ps and Qs” or to be “looking over their shoulder” during a time of crisis.

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Mícheál Martin does not expect HSE chief Paul Reid or chief medical officer Tony Holohan to be called as witnesses during a Covid inquiry.

He said he wouldn’t like to see people having to “mind their Ps and Qs” or to be “looking over their shoulder” during a time of crisis.

He promised the inquiry would be a “comprehensive evaluation” so the country could be ready to act in future pandemics.

Proposals on an inquiry into the State’s handling of the pandemic are set to be brought forward within a number of weeks, he added.

However, health chiefs who played a central role in Ireland’s pandemic response will not be in the witness box at Dublin Castle as part of the inquiry.

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan


“I don’t see it in that light,” said Mr Martin, speaking from Washington DC during his St Patrick’s Day visit.

The Taoiseach said he recognised people in public roles will learn from the pandemic, but it is important they feel capable of acting decisively when called upon to do so in future.

“When a crisis, a once-in-a-100-year event happens, mistakes will get made. The important thing is to learn from them, particularly public servants, because they’re in the lion’s den from the beginning.”

Civil servants are “in the kitchen from the beginning, and the heat is on in terms of 24-hour reactions” he said.

“So I don’t want people in the future looking over their shoulders as they did with other crises, saying, ‘There’s an inquiry behind my back and I better watch my Ps and Qs here’ or make decisions based on what people might ask them later.

“You’ve got to make the right call at the time, based on your judgment and based on the advice that you receive.”

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The Taoiseach had previously said that there was a need for a “comprehensive review” to analyse how the State dealt with the pandemic.

He said that it will help determine the lessons that “have to be learned”, which will help in managing future pandemics.

“We need to learn any lessons that have to be learned, with a view to ensuring that in the future, if another pandemic were to arise, we would be able to respond even more effectively,” he said.

He said there have recently been “discussions” in Government regarding the inquiry.

Civil servants are currently working on “detailed proposals” in conjunction with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, he added.

“[The pandemic] took a terrible toll on our people, and we still need to have that evaluation of how we did. I would hope that we would have proposals within the next couple of weeks on that,” Mr Martin said.

“People would want that within a reasonable timeframe.”

The Taoiseach was due to attend today’s National Day of Remembrance and Reflection ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, but he is instead isolating in Washington DC after having tested positive for Covid-19.

After testing positive on Wednesday night, Mr Martin had to cancel his much-anticipated visit to the White House and instead hold virtual talks with US president Joe Biden.

The positive test has thrown other government plans into disarray.

Mr Martin will virtually attend a Cabinet meeting this week, but he must stay on in the US until he is cleared to travel. He said he will stay in contact with ministers and manage on a “day-by-day” basis until he returns home.

His prolonged US stay means he may also miss this week’s European summit in Brussels for talks on the war in Ukraine. US president Joe Biden is expected to attend.

The US president briefly met Mr Martin at a gala event last week before their official virtual White House meeting, but the encounter was too short for Mr Biden to be classified a close contact.

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