Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on politics in the Republic of Ireland

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and affected the political system of the Republic of Ireland, causing suspensions of legislative activities and isolation of multiple politicians due to fears of spreading the virus. Several politicians have tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.

General election and government formation

On 8 February, a general election took place in Ireland, before the outbreak had been declared a pandemic or reached Europe. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael began talks on government formation on 11 March prompted by the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.[1][2]

On 20 February, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar offered his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, remaining, however, as Taoiseach in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new government.[3] President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald was the first high-profile politician affected by the spread of COVID-19, with her party cancelling events and her family entering self-isolation for a period, after McDonald confirmed on 2 March that her children attended the same school as the student with the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Ireland.[4]

Restriction announcements

On 12 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced from Washington measures intended to stop COVID-19 spreading, including the closure of all schools, universities and childcare facilities from the following day, as well as the closure of all cultural institutions and the cancellation of "all indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor mass gatherings of more than 500 people".[5] After returning home earlier than anticipated from his visit to the United States, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation on Saint Patrick's Night during A Ministerial Broadcast by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, introducing television viewers to the concept of "cocooning", i.e. "At a certain point… we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks".[6][7][8] The speech, which Varadkar made under Section 112 of the Broadcast Act, was the most watched television event in Irish history, surpassing the previous record held by The Late Late Toy Show by an additional total of about 25% and was widely distributed globally.[9][10] It was also plagiarised by Peter Bellew, the chief operating officer at British low-cost airline group EasyJet.[11]

On 24 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced from Government Buildings the extension of all existing measures until 19 April—as well as stricter measures, among which were: the limiting of social gatherings to four people (unless members of the same household); the shutting of all non-essential retail outlets still open—effective from midnight—bringing an official end to hairdressing, theatres, gyms, leisure centres, betting offices, marts and other market places, casinos and bingo halls, playgrounds, holiday caravan parks, organised indoor and outdoor social events of any kind, including all sport (some of which, such as horse racing, was then still being held behind closed doors); the limitation of cafes and restaurants to takeaway and delivery services. Varadkar stopped short of calling it a "lockdown", the term used in other countries.[12][13][14]

On the evening of Friday 27 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a live televised speech to the nation during which he announced further restrictions on public activity.[15][16] He said that all people must stay at home until 12 April (Easter Sunday) from the following midnight[17] with the following exemptions: to travel to and from work (essential work only);[17] shopping for food or household goods;[17] to attend medical appointments or collect medicines or related products;[17] for vital family reasons, such as caring for a relative;[17] to take brief exercise within 2 km of home;[17] for farming purposes, such as food production or care of animals.[17] Department of the Taoiseach official Liz Canavan later clarified that the movement restrictions also did not apply to anyone trying to avoid "risk of harm", including those attempting to evade domestic abuse.[18] All public or private gatherings of any number of people outside a residence were prohibited.[17] More non-essential shops and services were shut, adult community education centres and local community centres were shut.[17] All non-essential surgery, health procedures and other non-essential health services was postponed.[17] All visits to hospitals, other residential healthcare facilities and prisons would cease, with specific exemptions on compassionate grounds.[17] Shielding, or cocooning, of those over 70 years of age, or those regarded as being in specific categories of vulnerable people, was introduced.[17] Minister for Transport Shane Ross confirmed that, following Varadkar's announcement of 28 March, driving tests and NCTs would be suspended, stating that it was "critical that we give drivers as well as operators of commercial vehicles peace of mind in relation to the status of their licence, learner permit, NCT certificate or certificate of roadworthiness, especially if it has expired or is likely to expire during the period of the COVID-19 health crisis".[19] On 6 June, Minister for Transport Shane Ross announced that NCT and DTT service centres would reopen from 8 June.[20][21]

On 10 April (Good Friday), Varadkar announced that the measures introduced on 27 March would be extended until at least 5 May.[22]

On 1 May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the extension of the current restrictions to 18 May at the earliest.[23] A roadmap to easing restrictions in Ireland that includes five stages was adopted by the government on 1 May 2020 and subsequently published online.[24][25]

On 5 June, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a series of changes to the government's roadmap of easing COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland, which he summed up as: "Stay Local".[26]

On 12 June, Varadkar announced that travel restrictions remain in place and that nobody should leave Ireland for the purpose of tourism or leisure.[27]

On 19 June, Varadkar announced a further re-configuration of the government's roadmap of easing COVID-19 restrictions with hairdressers, barbers, gyms, cinemas and churches reopening from 29 June.[28][29]

On 7 August, the new Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a series of measures for counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly following significant increases of COVID-19 cases in the three counties, which will come into effect from midnight and will remain in place for two weeks.[30] Measures include:[31][32]

  • Residents of the three counties will not be permitted to travel outside of their counties except for in limited circumstances including to travel to and from work.
  • Restaurants, cafés, pubs serving food, cinemas, gyms, theatres, museums, galleries, bingo halls, casinos, betting shops, leisure centres and other indoor recreational and cultural outlets will be closed.
  • All retail outlets may remain open but with strict adherence to public health guidelines, including the wearing of face coverings.
  • All indoor gatherings will be restricted to 6 people and outdoor gatherings restricted to 15 people.

On 18 August, following a Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings, the Government of Ireland announced six new measures because of the growing number of confirmed cases, which will remain in place until at least 13 September:[33]

  • All outdoor events will be limited to 15 people
  • All indoor events will be limited to 6 people, except for religious services, weddings and businesses, such as shops and restaurants
  • Gardaí will be given new powers to enforce rules around social gatherings in restaurants and bars serving food, and in private homes
  • Restaurants and cafés can remain open with closing times of 11.30pm
  • People will be advised to work from home and to avoid using public transport, unless absolutely necessary
  • Sports events and matches will revert to behind closed doors with strict avoidance of social gatherings before and after events

On 9 September, the Government announced that measures introduced on 18 August will be extended until Tuesday 15 September as a new roadmap for "living with COVID-19" will be announced, which will include a colour-coded, five-level system to indicate what public health measures are in place in different areas of the country at any given time.[34]

On 15 September, the Government announced a medium-term plan for living with COVID-19 that includes five levels of restrictions, with the entire country at Level 2 and specific restrictions in Dublin including the postponement of the reopening of pubs not serving food.[35][36]

On 18 September, following an announcement at Government Buildings, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that Dublin will move to Level 3 restrictions from midnight and will remain in place for three weeks until 9 October.[37]

On 24 September, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that Donegal would move to Level 3 restrictions from the midnight of 25 September and will remain in place for three weeks until 16 October, with pubs remaining open for takeaway, delivery and outdoor dining to a maximum of 15 people only.[38]

On 4 October, in a letter sent to the Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommended the highest level of restrictions for the entire country – Level 5 for four weeks, following an unscheduled NPHET meeting chaired by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.[39] The next day on 5 October, the Government rejected NPHET's recommendation to place the entire country under Level 5 restrictions, and instead moved every county in Ireland to Level 3 COVID-19 restrictions with improved enforcement and indoor dining in pubs and restaurants banned, which will come into effect from the midnight of 6 October until 27 October at the earliest.[40] Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar stated that the recommendation from NPHET to move to Level 5 "hadn't been thought through and there hadn't been prior consultation".[41]

On 14 October, the Government agreed a nationwide ban on all household visits from the night of Thursday 15 October, except for essential reasons such as childcare and on compassionate grounds.[42] Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that counties Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan would move to Level 4 restrictions from the midnight of 15 October until 10 November.[43]

On 16 October, the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended to the Government to move the entire country to Level 5 restrictions for six weeks.[44]

On 17 October, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn and Chair of the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Philip Nolan briefed the three leaders of the Government of Ireland, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath to explain why the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended moving the entire country to Level 5 COVID-19 restrictions for six weeks.[45]

On 19 October, the Government agreed to move the entire country to Level 5 lockdown restrictions from midnight on Wednesday 21 October for six weeks until 1 December.[46]

On 8 November, the Government was criticised for a lack of clarity on what COVID-19 restrictions would apply at Christmas after the Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Philip Nolan warned that strict limits would be needed on Christmas gatherings.[47]

On 24 November, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar stated in Dáil Éireann that a third wave of restrictions may be required in the new year after the Christmas holiday.[48]

On 27 November, the Government agreed the approach for easing restrictions, including a phased move to Level 3 restrictions nationally from midnight on Tuesday 1 December, with a number of exceptions in place for the Christmas period from 18 December.[49]

Following the announcement of a third wave of COVID-19 that had arrived in the country,[50] the Government acted swiftly and on 22 December, Level 5 lockdown restrictions (subject to a number of adjustments) were agreed by the Government, which came into effect from 24 December (Christmas Eve) until 12 January 2021 at the earliest.[51][52]

On 30 December, six days after lockdown restrictions with a number of adjustments were reimposed nationwide, the Government agreed to move the entire country to full Level 5 lockdown restrictions from midnight until 31 January 2021 at the earliest.[53][54]

On 6 January 2021, the Government agreed a number of new lockdown measures including the closure of all schools until February with Leaving Certificate students allowed to attend school for three days a week,[55] the closure of all non-essential construction sites with certain exceptions at 6pm on 8 January, the requirement from 9 January for all passengers from the UK and South Africa to have a negative PCR test that they acquired within 72 hours of travelling and the prohibition of click-and-collect services for non-essential retail.[56] During the new lockdown, the Government was forced to abandon plans for Leaving Certificate students to attend school on three days a week and plans to reopen special schools on Thursday 21 January for thousands of children with special educational needs due to safety concerns among staff unions.[57]

On 22 January, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that there would be no easing of Level 5 lockdown restrictions at the end of January and suggested the current restrictions would be in place for at least another four weeks.[58] On 26 January, the Government announced the extension of the Level 5 lockdown restrictions until 5 March, along with a number of new measures including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all people travelling into the country without a negative COVID-19 test, including all arrivals from Brazil and South Africa.[59][60]

On 23 February, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the extension of Level 5 lockdown restrictions for another six weeks until 5 April (Easter Monday) at the earliest as the Government published its new revised Living with COVID-19 plan called "The Path Ahead", which includes the phased reopening of schools and childcare and the extension of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.[61][62]

On 30 March, the Government announced a phased easing of Level 5 restrictions from Monday 12 April, with people allowed to travel within their county, two households allowed to meet socially outdoors, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 allowed to meet other fully vaccinated people indoors, and the resumption of all residential construction projects from that date.[63]

On 29 April, the Government announced a reopening plan for the country throughout May and June from 10 May, with inter-county travel allowed, the reopening of all hairdressers, libraries, museums and galleries, up to 50 people allowed to attend religious services, the resumption of click-and-collect services and the allowances of three households to meet outdoors (including in private gardens) and a vaccinated household to meet an unvaccinated household indoors from that date.[64]

On 28 May, the Government announced a further reopening plan for the country throughout June, July and August, with the reopening of all hotels from 2 June, outdoor hospitality, cinemas, swimming pools, gyms from 7 June, and indoor hospitality from 5 July.[65]

On 29 June, due to the rapidly increasing incidence of the Delta variant, the Government announced that the planned reopening of indoor dining and drinking in restaurants and pubs on 5 July would be delayed until at least 19 July when a system to verify vaccination or immunity would be implemented, while 50 guests would be permitted to attend wedding celebrations as an exception from July.[66] Following several meetings and discussions between the hospitality sector and senior government officials to discuss a new self-regulated vaccine pass system, indoor dining and drinking in restaurants and pubs resumed on Monday 26 July to fully vaccinated or COVID-19 recovered people, with businesses operating under new strict guidelines.[67] Under the new guidelines, there would be no time limits for customers, closing time would be set at 11:30pm, up to six adults would be allowed sit at tables, the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) would be the primary evidence for proof of immunity, all customers would have to show photo ID, with an online QR code scanner developed to verify people's DCCs.[68]

On 6 August, following a meeting of the Cabinet COVID-19 sub-committee, it was announced that the Government would publish a roadmap by the end of August for the easing or ending of remaining COVID-19 restrictions.[69][70] On 31 August, the Government announced a further reopening plan for the country, with all remaining COVID-19 restrictions to be eased by 22 October, including the two-metre social distancing rule depending on the requirement of individual sectors, while masks would still be required in the health and retail sectors and on public transport.[71]

After a sudden rise in COVID-19 figures, on 19 October, the Government published a revised plan for the easing of restrictions on 22 October, with nightclubs allowed to reopen, the return of normal trading hours in pubs and restaurants, no attendance limits on weddings and religious ceremonies and 100% capacity allowed at sporting venues, while the continued use of masks, vaccine certificates and social distancing measures would remain in place until at least February 2022.[72]

On 16 November, the Government announced a series of measures in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, with a closing time for bars, restaurants and nightclubs to be midnight, household contacts of a person with COVID-19 to restrict movements for five days and take three antigen tests, people required to work from home where possible and vaccination certificates required for cinemas and theatres.[73] Additional measures were announced on 30 November, with parents of children aged 12 and under urged to reduce socialisation indoors, a negative test required for people arriving into Ireland from Friday 3 December, the re-establishment of mandatory hotel quarantine, the wearing of face coverings for children aged 9 years and over on public transport, in retail and for children in third class and above.[74]

On 3 December, the Government reintroduced a series of measures that would commence from 7 December to 9 January amid concerns of the Omicron variant, with nightclubs to close, bars and restaurants to revert to six adults per table and no multiple table bookings allowed, indoor cultural and sporting events to operate at 50% capacity, a maximum of four households allowed to meet indoors, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to be reinstated and the requirement of vaccination certificates extended to gyms, leisure centres and hotel bars.[75] On 17 December, to curb the spread of COVID-19 over the Christmas period, the Government announced an 8pm closing time for bars, restaurants, live events, cinemas and theatres that would commence from 20 December to 30 January.[76]

On 21 January 2022, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the easing of almost all COVID-19 restrictions from 6am on 22 January, with the requirements of vaccine certificates and social distancing to end, restrictions on household visits and capacity limits for indoor and outdoor events to end, nightclubs to reopen and pubs and restaurants to resume normal trading times, while rules on the wearing of masks and isolation rules would remain.[77]

Other government events

On 9 March, a Cabinet Sub-Committee on COVID-19 was established.[78][79] It published a National Action Plan on 16 March.[80]

On 19 March, Dáil Éireann reconvened under social distancing measures to pass emergency legislation. At the written request of Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the sitting was limited to 48 TDs (11 each representing Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, four Greens, three members of the Regional Group and two members of all other parties and groups). The legislation—Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020—passed all stages, and, following requests by opposition TDs, included a sunset provision for review in November.[81] During the sitting, Eamon Ryan called on the Irish to grow lettuce on their window sills: "Let's get every south facing window sill in this country and lets plant our seeds in the next week so that if there is any supply crisis in food in two or three months time when this really hits hard, we'll have our salads ready to go".[82]

On 20 March, Seanad Éireann—also sitting in reduced numbers—passed the legislation after a three-hour debate.[83] President Higgins wrote the legislation into law later that day, giving the state the power to detain people, restrict travel and keep people in their homes to restrict the pandemic.[84]

At its next sitting—on 26 March—the Dáil passed further emergency legislation—Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Bill 2020—introduced due to the virus, again with deliberately limited numbers attending, and without a vote.[85] President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald was absent after announcing on Twitter that she had awoken with a "head cold" and that Pearse Doherty would lead the party instead.[86][87] The election for Leas-Cheann Comhairle (deputy "chair" or "speaker" of Dáil Éireann) was scheduled for early that morning, but was deferred. Taoiseach Varadkar asked Denis Naughten to temporarily fill the role to avert a possible constitutional crisis, with the previous occupant Pat "the Cope" Gallagher having lost his seat in the February general election and the need for a Leas-Cheann Comhairle being regarded as critical should Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl become incapacitated.[88][89] Naughten, a former Fine Gael politician who left the party to sit as an independent, had run against Ó Fearghaíl during the earlier election to fill the main office. After passing through the Dáil, the bill passed without a vote the following day (27 March) through all stages in the Seanad (in its final sitting before counting got underway in the Seanad election which had to follow the 2020 general election), and President Higgins signed the bill into law the same day.[90][91] There followed a paralysis of the national legislature on the basis that the Taoiseach had to nominate the final eleven members of the Seanad, Varadkar (as outgoing Taoiseach) did not have the support of the Dáil (and was therefore prevented by the Constitution from filling the vacancies) and no other nomination for Taoiseach could be agreed upon by all parties in the Dáil.[92][93]

The Dáil met again—one week after its previous sitting—on 2 April again with deliberately limited numbers, this time augmented by a Labour Party boycott—while Mary Lou McDonald's absence continued (announced the previous day) due to her being "under the weather".[94][95]

The Dáil's next meeting occurred from 12 midday to 7:30 pm on 23 April (following the Easter break), at which a limited number of its members discussed the impact of the virus.[96]

With a new government formed on 27 June, the Dáil moved from its traditional home at Leinster House to the Convention Centre to facilitate social distancing. Thus it was that, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin rotated into position as Taoiseach on a contract of two and a bit years.[97] Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl confirmed as early as March that arrangements were being made for the move from Leinster House for the occasion, with Dublin Castle also having been suggested as a possible venue.[98][99] The Convention Centre was announced in early April as having been selected.[100] The Dáil sat in the Convention Centre from June until it was announced on 11 September that it would return to Leinster House for socially-distanced debates on Tuesdays and Thursdays while continuing at the Convention Centre on Wednesdays with full attendance where required for voting purposes.[101]

Many politicians have had to adapt their political campaigning to the restrictions imposed by Level 5 restrictions. Ministers such as Roderic O'Gorman, conducted meetings of the public online, facilitated by Zoom software, instead of face-to-face.[102]

On 5 August, a video emerged online appearing to show multiple breaches of COVID-19 regulations at the pub owned by Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae in Kilgarvan, County Kerry, with young people gathering in the pub wearing no masks, with no social distancing and with access to the bar.[103][104] The next day, on 6 August, Gardaí began preliminary inquiries into the indoor gathering at the pub.[105] On 8 January 2022, there was to be no prosecution following an investigation into possible breaches of COVID-19 health regulations in the pub.[106]

On the night of 4 September, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar faced criticism after a photograph emerged on social media showing him at the Mighty Hoopla music festival in London on the same weekend Electric Picnic was cancelled in Ireland due to the Government's COVID-19 restrictions.[107]

Political controversies

Oireachtas Golf Society scandal

Jerry Buttimer
Calleary, a minister, and Buttimer, a senator, attended the Oireachtas Golf Society event in August 2020; both subsequently resigned from their main political offices.

August 2020 brought the Oireachtas Golf Society scandal. On 21 August, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary and Seanad Leas-Chathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer resigned after they attended the event, in contravention of regulations under the Health Act.[108][109] Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Trade, soon followed, having also travelled through Kildare while the county was in lockdown and when he was supposed to be self-isolating after arriving in Ireland from Brussels.[110][111] Meanwhile, amid the golf reports, the new Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly equated COVID-19 to jumping on a trampoline, only to formally retract it afterwards while speaking before an Oireachtas committee.[112]

Government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic

On 24 February 2021, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar addressed a meeting of Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs and stated that criticism of how the Government had been communicating was reasonable, had been heard loud and clear, and would be taken on board, after a number of Fine Gael politicians launched an attack on Taoiseach Micheál Martin over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.[113][114][115] Former Fine Gael minister John Paul Phelan started the backlash during the meeting and stated that the Taoiseach's performance had been "appalling" and said the party's membership were "livid".[116] Fine Gael Leader of Seanad Éireann Regina Doherty stated that Fianna Fáil had "destroyed" the good work her party did during the first wave of COVID-19.[117] Former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and current MEP Frances Fitzgerald criticised Martin for saying "nothing new" in his address to the nation on 23 February[118] and former Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring stated the Government's performance over the last two weeks had been a "disgrace" and also stated that they had lost the trust of the people.[119] On 25 February, the Leader of the Green Party and Minister for the Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport Eamon Ryan defended accusations of "unholy mess" in the Government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,[120] and by 26 February, Taoiseach Micheál Martin faced growing anger within his own party over his handling of the pandemic. Kildare North TD James Lawless stated that the extension of the Level 5 lockdown was "largely predictable" and called on the Government to give people hope, while a number of TDs and senators privately stated that they were disillusioned with the party and insisted change was needed sooner rather than later.[121]

Katherine Zappone controversy

Former Minister for Children Zappone organised the event and Tánaiste Varadkar attended.

August 2021 brought the Merrion Hotel controversy. On 4 August, political pressure was mounting on former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who was controversially appointed UN special envoy on freedom of expression, after she organised an outdoor 50-person event at the Merrion Hotel on 21 July and stated that she was "assured" by the hotel that the event was "in compliance with Government COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines". Zappone ultimately declined her UN role after the appointment process was strongly criticised.[122][123] The controversy took another twist as the Government Press Office released a statement saying that advice from the Attorney General Paul Gallagher was that organised events and gatherings could take place for up to 200 people "including social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community events".[124] Comparisons were made between the gathering and the Golfgate scandal from earlier in the pandemic.[125]

Department of Foreign Affairs controversy

December 2021 brought the Department of Foreign Affairs controversy. On 29 December, an image emerged in the Irish Daily Star, Daily Mail and Irish Mirror newspapers showing at least 20 senior officials and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs gathering without face coverings or regard for social distancing and drinking bottles of Moët & Chandon at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the department, in breach of public health guidelines on 17 June 2020, when Ireland was elected to the UN Security Council.[126][127] At the time of the incident, Ireland was at phase two of a roadmap issued by the government for reopening the national economy after the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when a person could only meet people from up to six other households and working from home was advised.[128][129] In a statement, a spokesperson for the department said "steps had been taken" after the UN Security Council campaign team "briefly let their guard down", blaming "a moment of happiness" for the incident and insisting that "lessons have been learned".[130][131]

The Iveagh House party was compared to the Golfgate scandal by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, who said it undermined the public health effort, and those involved seemed to believe the rules only applied to "little people",[132][133] while Independent TD Michael McNamara criticised the department for "hypocrisy".[134][135]

On 16 January 2022, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney ordered an investigation into the gathering.[136] On 31 January, an investigation found that a "serious breach" of social distancing rules occurred.[137] The former Secretary General Niall Burgess, who was responsible for the photograph, was asked to make a donation to a charity providing assistance to people affected by COVID-19 in the amount of €2,000, while three other senior officials were asked to make a donation in the amount of €1,000.[138]

Instances of isolation and testing


McDonald (Sinn Féin), McConalogue (Fianna Fáil) and McEntee (Fine Gael) were the first TDs from their respective parties to confirm they had contracted COVID-19.

On 16 March, Thomas Pringle, an independent TD representing the Donegal constituency, entered isolation due to previous contact with someone in Dublin and the high risk to his own personal health.[139][140]

On 18 March, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, the independent MEP representing the Midlands–North-West constituency, announced that he and his family would begin self-isolating after his daughter exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.[141]

On 19 March, it was reported that Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy had been in self-isolation for the past week after returning from a visit abroad to see family. Murphy had set off before travel advice against doing so was issued and—while he had "not been in direct physical contact with any colleagues"—he, nevertheless, was well enough to continue his work remotely.[142]

On 23 March, Tánaiste Simon Coveney revealed he had tested negative for COVID-19. He underwent the test after being contact traced via the positive result of Claire Byrne, whom he had sat beside on live television less than two weeks previously.[143] It was believed that Coveney was the first member of the Varadkar cabinet to be tested for the virus.[144]

On 14 April (the day after the Easter Monday public holiday), President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald confirmed she had tested positive for COVID-19.[145]

On 23 April, President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald announced that she had recovered from COVID-19. She gave an interview to Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show the following night, in which one COVID-19 positive person interviewed another COVID-19 positive person for television viewers nationwide.[146][147]

On 3 June, it was revealed that Minister for Health Simon Harris had self-isolated for several days after developing symptoms of the virus; a test returned a negative result.[148]

On 15 September, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl announced that the entire government would have to restrict their movements after Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly reported feeling unwell and contacted his GP for a COVID-19 test.[149][150][151] The Department of Health confirmed that Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn was also restricting his movements as he had met members of the government on 14 September,[152][153][154] while Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne had gone into self-isolation after getting tested for COVID-19.[155][156] The Leader of the Green Party and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport Eamon Ryan previously self-isolated while a member of his household awaited results of a COVID-19 test.[157] Just after 9pm, it was announced that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly tested negative for COVID-19 and that the government no longer needed to restrict their movements.[158][159]

On 23 September, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe were among the three Cabinet ministers who began to restrict their movements under COVID-19 public health advice.[160] Varadkar was informed that he was a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and subsequently took a test which returned negative.[161][162] Coveney restricted his movements after attending meetings in Brussels, while Donohoe restricted his movements after attending a meeting of EU finance ministers in Berlin and subsequently took a test which returned negative.[163][164] Donohoe was deemed a close contact of Bruno Le Maire, the French Finance Minister, who tested positive for COVID-19 on 18 September.[165]

On 24 October, four Fine Gael senators (Tim Lombard, Jerry Buttimer, Emer Currie, Garret Ahearn) were reported to have begun self-isolating after two tested positive for COVID-19.[166][167] Currie later confirmed she was one of the two, and that her positive result had caused the other three to isolate.[168]

On 17 December, Taoiseach Micheál Martin tested negative for COVID-19 following an announcement that he was restricting his movements after coming into close contact with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had tested positive for COVID-19.[169]

On 23 December, all ministers in the Government restricted their movements after it emerged that Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue had tested positive for COVID-19. McConalogue was tested after returning from Brussels on 17 December. The result was negative. He then went shopping in Dublin city centre hours ahead of a scheduled five-day follow-up COVID-19 test which led to the positive result McConalogue received "sometime between 10.30am and 11am" on 23 December. He displayed no symptoms and isolated in his native County Donegal.[170][171]


Feighan (Fine Gael), Ó Fearghaíl (Fianna Fáil) and Ryan (Green Party) contracted COVID-19 in 2021.

Shortly after 11 am on the morning of 6 January 2021, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced on Twitter that she had tested positive for COVID-19 but intended to work remotely while isolating.[172][173]

On 13 October, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced that he was self-isolating after experiencing mild symptoms.[174]

On 6 November, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan tested positive for COVID-19 and cancelled his trip to the COP26 conference in Glasgow.[175][176] The next day, it was confirmed that he tested negative after taking a second test and would now travel to COP26.[177]

On 7 November, Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan experienced symptoms of COVID-19 and a positive test result was announced the next day.[178]

On 22 November 2021, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl began self-isolating and working from home after testing positive for COVID-19. Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly took over his duties.[179]

On 19 December, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan began self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.[180]


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Media files used on this page

Coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2.png
Author/Creator: Alexey Solodovnikov (Idea, Producer, CG, Editor), Valeria Arkhipova (Scientific Сonsultant), Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Scientifically accurate atomic model of the external structure of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), a strain (genetic variant) of the coronavirus that caused Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), first identified in Wuhan, China, during December 2019

Each separate locus (amorphous blob) is an atom of:

  cobalt: membrane
  crimson: E protein
  green: M protein
  orange: glucose (glycan)
  turquoise : S (spike) glycoprotein
SARS-CoV-2 (Wikimedia colors).svg
Author/Creator: Geraki, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
SARS-CoV-2 logo in Wikimedia colors
Seán Ó Fearghaíl 2020 (cropped) 2.jpg
Author/Creator: Houses of the Oireachtas, Licence: CC BY 2.0
Pictures of Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD taking the Ceann Comhairle's chair after his election on the First Sitting of the 33rd Dáil on 20 February 2020.
2018 Helen McEntee (39947643565) (cropped).jpg
Author/Creator: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres, Licence: CC BY 2.0
Am Freitag, den 16. März 2018, empfing Bundesministerin Karin Kneissl der Europaministerin von Irland Helen McEntee, zu einem Arbeitsgespräch in Wien.Foto: Mahmoud
Frank Feighan 2014.jpg
Author/Creator: Dept. of Health, Licence: CC BY 2.0
Frank Feighan in 2014
Katherine Zappone 2016.jpg
Author/Creator: Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Licence: CC BY 2.0
15/9/2016 Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone visiting UL after an invitation from the Law Department Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22
Mary Lou McDonald (official portrait) 2020 (cropped).jpg
Author/Creator: Houses of the Oireachtas, Licence: CC BY 4.0
Official portrait of Mary Lou McDonald on the Houses of the Oireachtas website.
Charlie McConalogue 2011 cropped.jpg
Author/Creator: Sleepyhead2, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Charlie McConalogue, freshly-elected Irish politician