“We Can’t Sugarcoat This”


From top: St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin last year; Minister for Health Simon Harris

This morning.

Minister for Health Simon Harris spoke to Dr Gavin Jennings on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about the coronavirus.

It follows reports yesterday that 1.9million people in Ireland, or 40 per cent of the population, are ‘likely’ to become sick with the virus.

As of this morning, there have been 21 confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland.

The interview also came ahead of a Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 meeting later today.

Among matters they discussed included how people forced to stop working will cope financially, the number of Intensive Care Unit beds in the country and St Patrick’s Day festivities.

Mr Harris also told Dr Jennings that there is “a moderate to high risk” that Ireland “will follow a pattern seen in other European countries”.

From the interview…

Gavin Jennings: “Have you made a decision on paying people who have to stay at home. If people are going to be asked to self-isolate for 14 days to help contain the virus, how are they going to do that with no income? Are they going to get sick pay? Or are you going to give them statutory pay?”

Simon Harris: “So, at the moment, as you know. If you’re out sick, or told to stay at home, you can access social protection supports. The challenge is you can’t access them for a number of days.

“One of the things we’ve been looking at across Government is can you reduce that waiting period so people can get support more quickly. And that’s something we’ll be considering today.

“The best way of doing it is something…”

Jennings: “Sorry, have you made a decision yet?”

Harris: “The Cabinet committee will make a decision today. We met with, and I wasn’t, I wasn’t involved in these meetings but the trade unions and the employer representative groups had meetings with Government officials in Government buildings. And we receive recommendations at the Cabinet committee.

“The only thing we’re trying to…we’re very clear on what we want to do here. And we want to provide the support. The only question that remains is how best do we do that and we’ll consider that this morning.”

Jennings: “At the moment, all confirmed cases are being treated in isolation in hospital. How much longer is that going to be the case?”

Harris: “So that is a clinical call that will be made by the public health emergency team. And let me just explain why that is. One of the reasons we’ve been asking people who have tested positive and have the illness, even if they’re reasonably well in themselves.

“One of the reasons they’ve been staying in hospital, rather than self-isolating at home is, remember this is a very, very new virus. And it’s providing an opportunity for our healthcare professionals to continue to monitor and learn more about it. And that information will stand us in good stead.

“But you are quite correct. You will get to a point in time where it will not make sense for people who have tested positive, but are reasonably well, to take up a bed when there could be somebody who’s positive and not well, who requires that bed. So we have a protocol in place to enable people who test positive to self isolate at home and our public health emergency team will decide when to make that switchover.”

Jennings: “What are you going to do when there are more critically ill people than there are ICU beds? What’s the plan?”

Harris: “So there’s a couple of elements to this plan. The first, as you know, is we’re expanding ICU capacity and we gave another €21million to the health service last week to open more ICU beds….”

Jennings: “Brings it up to about 300, isn’t that right?”

Harris: “That’s about right. They’re continuing to look at opportunities across the health service to open more beds and those beds will be funded. We’re also going to engage our private hospitals, it’s quite likely that if you got to a situation where this virus outbreaks in a serious way, that many elected procedures in private hospitals could yet be cancelled. So they may have capacity. So we’re looking at that as well.”

“We’re also looking at one of the other ways you can increase capacity, is obviously increasing the workforce. So lifting any kind of restrictions on recruitment. Up until now obviously all recruitment, you’ve only been able to recruit funded posts. That’s the norm. But making it more flexible to recruit more people, bringing back from experts, and also looking at the possibility of our model two hospitals, they’re our smaller hospitals, Gavin, having capacity to do more in relation to isolation.

“I do need to say, and I know you know this, but it’s important for our listeners to know this. Most people who get this will not require ICU. Even those who require hospitalisation, many of them will not require ICU. But it is true that we have a shortage here in Ireland.

“But indeed there’s a global shortage and this is a challenge that we’re seeing, health services are seeing it in Italy today. So everything that can be done is being done.”


Jennings: “Italy had 20 confirmed cases on February 21, now it’s almost 16,000. And they have 16million in lockdown. We have 21 confirmed cases and everything is going ahead as normal. Why aren’t we trying to get ahead of this disease?”

Harris: “So we really are. And I wouldn’t accept that everything is going ahead as normal. We had our first confirmed case of this last weekend and since then you’ve seen the benefit of the work that’s been done since January with the number of key decisions made. We’ve shown a willingness to cancel events, as is appropriate. There were a number of rugby games due to take place in this country over the weekend that didn’t on the basis of public health advice.

“We’ve set up a stakeholders forum to bring together all of civic society, unions, employers, voluntary groups and that’s met twice. There’s a new Cabinet committee convened. We’ve changed our protocols so the national ambulance service is now doing a really good job, going out and doing testing in people’s homes. Saves them having to come into the hospital. We have information and experts available in all of our airports providing information and we’ve expanded our ICU beds.

“And we will do more. But it is important to say, I mean Ireland is at at early stage of progression here compared to other European countries. You referenced Italy but look also at France, at Germany, the UK. But you’re right. There’s a moderate to high risk, we can’t sugarcoat this. There’s a moderate to high risk that we will follow a pattern seen in other European countries and that’s what we’re preparing for and what we’re working around the clock for.”

Jennings: “France is cancelling public gatherings of over 1,000 people. Germany is considering doing the same. Is it responsible to allow St Patrick’s Day festival and gatherings to go ahead now?”

Harris: “So I’ve been Minister for Health for nearly four years and I’ve learned  a lot in that time. And what I’ve learned mostly is that if you listen to your public health advice and public health experts, you won’t usually go far wrong. Our public health experts are considering the issue of St Patrick’s Day as we speak and I expect clarity to be brought to that within the next 24 to 48 hours. I’ve no interest to be making decisions to be seen to take action if our public health experts don’t believe it will make a difference.

“But whatever our public health experts guide us on in terms of St Patrick’s Day is what the Government will go with. The chief medical officer and others are providing us with expert advice, round-the-clock, in what is a fast, evolving situation. This is changing not just in Ireland but around the world on a very regular basis and we’ll meet again this morning just after 11am and we’ll have a chance to assess this.”

Jennings: “But there are also political decisions that need to be made, decisions that will need to be made by politicians and by Government. Do you really think that you’re showing responsibility by allowing these gatherings go ahead?”

Harris: “Well, just to be clear, they haven’t gone ahead yet. So the Italy V Ireland rugby game did not go ahead because the public health advice was that it shouldn’t proceed. And we will take the same approach to St Patrick’s Day in terms of the public health advice. We will follow that to the letter….”

Listen back in full here



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46 thoughts on ““We Can’t Sugarcoat This”

  1. Joe cool

    Cancel the parade. Cancel all travel between Ireland and Italy. It’s not rocket science. The acting government are only concerned about money coming into the country. The population are secondary when it comes to making decisions.

    1. Cian

      The problem, as I see it is, is the difference between potential outcomes and definite outcomes, and who to blame.

      1. There is a risk that more people will get the virus. (this hasn’t happened *yet* and *might* not happen – even though the odds are getting smaller and smaller).
      2. If the government cancel the parade and ban travel to/from Italy there will be definite outcomes directly attributed to the government: the tourist industry will be adversely affected. Hotels & B&Bs will be hit; restaurants will be hit; taxis/pubs/tourist shops/etc/etc, the owners will be affect but this affects the workers too – people won’t get shifts, people will lose jobs; people won’t be able to afford their rents, etc. And all the people affected will blame the government and expect compensation. But the government will also be out of pocket with the drop in tourism.

      (aside: I think the parades should be cancelled, and flights to Italy stopped… but I also realise that this will have massive knock-on effects.)

      Question is: are **YOU** willing to face higher taxes to help the people affected by the controls put in place to avoid the virus??

      Aside #2 I’m also not 100% sure if the government can actually force these stoppages – they can only ask the organisers/airlines to not go ahead.

      1. some old queen

        This virus is going to get to the point where because of limited ICU bed capacity, on a daily basis, doctors will be forced to make decisions on who has a chance of living, and who will most certainly die. Just think about that for a moment.

        The government has a responsibility to prioritise the public health of its citizens over everything else which at this point means slowing the spread of this disease by any and all means necessary.

        Cancelling social events is not the end of the world- dying is.

        1. Cian

          “The government has a responsibility to prioritise the public health of its citizens over everything else ”
          This is simply not true. The world isn’t black and white.

          How about this: “A person has a responsibility to prioritise the their own health over everything else “. Is this true? Do we all look after our health? Exercise? Eat healthily? Avoid danger? Wash our hands? why would you put a greater onus on the government to look after the people than they do themselves? Do you want to live in a nanny state?

          1. some old queen

            What I like most others want, is for them to do the job they were employed to do and start taking proactive measure to slow the spread of this thing.

            When planes are still arriving from hot spots without even screening at airports, punching down with bullpoo about personal responsibility is a joke.

      2. GiggidyGoo

        Question Cian – are YOU willing to put people’s lives in danger for the sake of profit?

        1. Cian

          Personally? No.

          ….But I didn’t mention profit. What is your obsession with profit?

          Did you not read the part where I said “I think the parades should be cancelled, and flights to Italy stopped… “

  2. Spaghetti Hoop

    When it comes to public health, always err on the side of caution.
    Said no Fine Gaeler ever. It’s all about the ker-ching!

  3. Andrew

    Is Dr. Gavin Jennings a medical doctor? Just wondering.

    Apart from that I see the HSE Unions are showing their true colours again. They have nothing but contempt for the general public.

  4. class wario

    It would be the most FG thing ever to let the St. Patricks Day festivities go ahead in order to strain some ‘economic benefit’ from it in the face of a worldwide viral outbreak.

    1. class wario

      That said, people talking about cutting off travel into the country from X or Y area are ridiculously stupid and reactionary.

  5. Hector Ramirez

    If told to stay at home, you can access Social Welfare supports, but it’ll take a couple of days… thinking he meant the 14 quarantine days. But nope it’s, the waiting time.

    Plus, if you can’t go outside the door, is there a telephone number available where you can contact SW to make your claim?

    1. Clampers Outside

      You can make a claim online through Mywelfare.ie…. but you will need to have a PSC card, and have set up a mygovID

      1. some old queen

        To set up a mygovID you need to have a Public Services Card and if you don’t have a PSC card then you and your covid 19 infection will have to go to one of their offices and apply.

        1. Cian

          Which is why the PSC is/was such a good idea and the Luddites have put themselves and others at risk by not signing up.

          1. some old queen

            The people who signed up were those who needed to sign up in order to access certain services- the ‘Luddites’ as you kindly refer to them were in the main, people who had concerns about data privacy- myself included.

            There is no law that you need to have a PSC card in order to claim social welfare. Without explanation, they disabled the option on the website to apply without one which is at best, sharp practice.

          2. Cian

            Another unintended consequence.

            You had concerns about data privacy and you didn’t sign up for a USC.
            Now, to get any welfare payments to reduce the risk of infecting people with covid19 you have to put yourself (and the welfare staff) in danger.

            Just think about that for a moment.

          3. some old queen

            Oh dear- so the government attempted to force people into using a card which they have no right to do, and somehow it is the fault of those who objected?

            The solution is simple- overnight they can re-enable the option to claim social welfare without having to use a PSC card- therefore no additional risk to anyone. You don’t need a PSC card to claim in person so it can be done.

          4. Cian

            No. The problem is that claiming it in person creates a risk of infecting other people…

            The PSC (+online application) is the solution

          5. some old queen

            The government (illegally?) took it upon themselves to insist on having a PSC card in order to use their online social welfare system. People who had no reason to have one never bother taking time off work to go register- why would they?

            Now, we have a situation where a sizeable number of people with a potentially life threatening infectious disease cannot claim sickness benefit because the option to do has been disabled. So instead of blame games- tell me, what is the answer?

            Ask those people to go out when they should be in quarantine or just switch the dammed thing back on again?

            Oh and btw- you can apply by phone without a PSC card but as you could never get through before- you have two hopes now.

          6. Cian

            1. The PSC was legally introduced for welfare interactions and payments.
            2. “cannot claim sickness benefit because the option to do has been disabled“… I don’t know what you are talking about. What has been disabled? What answer do you want?
            3. My point is simply if you do have a PSC, you can apply online.
            4. Oh and btw- you can apply by phone without a PSC card . Really? So what the hell are you talking about? There is a non-PSC answer.


          7. some old queen

            Wrong- you do not need a PSC card in order to claim welfare payments and the only time it is required is if you apply online. You used to be able to apply online without it but they disabled the feature.

            So let me make a prediction- if 20% of the work force is sick and half of them do not have a PSC card, they’ll soon discover they cannot apply online. And when they call the enquiry line, a number which is permanently busy as it is, they won’t be long realising that is a waste of time too.

            But of course, Harris and co know all this because they have been fighting with Helen Dixon for the past three years over it- maybe she is a ‘Luddite’ too eh?


    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      He does it four times. Which indicates his spiel was there before the interview. Hardly surprising I know, but as a politician you are supposed to come across as listening and answering with some sort of sincerity and responsiveness.

      1. V

        But he’s not just a Politician
        He is a Minister
        Albeit acting

        For Health
        At a time of significant confusion around a major outbreak
        And no certainty as to whether our own Healthcare infrastructure can manage the virus

        1. Cian

          “And no certainty as to whether our own Healthcare infrastructure can manage the virus”

          So, since he doesn’t have a crystal ball and know how bad the outbreak will be – he literally has no way of knowing whether the Healthcare infrastructure can manage.

          Breaking News: Harris cannot predict the future.

          Also Breaking News: The Healthcare infrastructure probably won’t be able to manage the virus.

          1. GiggidyGoo

            “Breaking News: Harris cannot predict the future.”
            But surely he can plan? Instead of the ‘looking at……considering…..etc,

            “Also Breaking News: The Healthcare infrastructure probably won’t be able to manage the virus.”
            Maybe I’m wrong, but weren’t there 17600 or so hospital beds in the system in 2000, and we are now at 11,000 or so. I wonder why the hospital infrastructure wouldn’t be able to manage it? Could it be FFG’s decimation of the health service?

          2. Cian

            No. In 2000 there were 12,000 hospital beds. Now there are 56,234 beds[1].

            [1] if you can make up numbers – so can I! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      2. kellma

        You say this like its a bad thing that he came prepared for the interview and ensured he had all his is dotted and his ts crossed.

  6. GiggidyGoo

    ‘We are looking at….’
    The usual mantra.
    And the qualifications of our Health Minister? – Drop out from journalism in University.

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      I did too. It sounded like a newly-qualified apprentice in their first job interview.

  7. Christopher

    I’ll take my medical advice from health professionals and not TV3 weather men. Thanks.

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