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Ministers warn of “political” NPHET that “heads will roll” as the split deepens

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Due to an unprecedented rift between the Cabinet and public health chiefs, disciplinary action against NPHET members was under consideration at the highest levels of government.

It comes as the government struggles to regain control of leadership in Covid policy and announcements by NPHET, when deep divisions surfaced over the release of the Christmas restrictions this week.

Cabinet sources expressed their dismay at the recent Covid measures, which will come into effect on Tuesday. The MoS has also learned that cracks have emerged in the coalition, with growing concern among Fine Gael cabinet members over the performance of Fianna Fáil Health and Education Ministers Stephen Donnelly and Norma Foley.

Image: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

Senior cabinet sources this weekend expressed deep discomfort at the increasingly public role of NPHET. And there was even a dark warning that NPHEt members could be demoted or dismissed if they continued to behave “politically”.

A minister told the MoS: “NPHETs have become political actors, but it is not their job to be political. “And they shouldn’t enjoy the protection that civil servants get when they want to operate politically.”

New details surfaced this weekend on the ramifications between the Cabinet and public health leaders after the latest advice on reintroducing some restrictions on home visits, hospitality and live events from leaks leaked Thursday night.

Sources said cabinet ministers had been left in the dark about the measures until Friday morning. One source summed up the confusion: “[Justice Minister] Helen McEntee was unhappy that she was asked about restrictions on the radio and the media knew more about it than she did.

Photo: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

[Social Protection Minister] Heather Humphreys didn’t have time to prepare [extending] PUP payments. And with an hour in advance, we find out about a cabinet meeting. ‘ One minister said: “The obsession with the NPHET letter is amazing. The process needs to be changed. Tony is only three doors away from Stephen. Why don’t they meet and talk? ‘ They added, “You wouldn’t see it in any other country. It’s almost like Tony is the Pope and the letter is like a series of Ten Commandments coming down the mountain. ‘

The cabinet was not originally scheduled to meet until Tuesday to discuss the latest advice from NPHET on Christmas restrictions. However, on Friday it was decided to bring the meeting forward to counter growing public concern and confusion about the measures and when to implement them.

A minister told the MoS: “The [Cabinet] The meeting was called at short notice as the Taoiseach and Tánaiste both felt that we could not allow a weekend of fear, debate and speculation about the restrictions. We think it was the right call. ‘

Despite clashes between ministers and their public health advisors in a tense cabinet subcommittee on Friday, the government publicly backed the NPHET proposals, extending the deadline for the latest Covid restrictions from two weeks to a full month.

One minister said: “This was not the time to tell them no. “After last Christmas there would be no forgiveness from the government if there was a repeat of last year” [when the Coalition did not heed NPHET’S advice to lockdown]. ‘

CMO Dr.  Tony Holohan

Still, there are dark warnings for NPHET. “But you cannot always be careful or live in fear forever and we will be in a new place in January,” added the minister.

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