Issued by the Government Press Office
22 December 2020
Check against delivery
Speech of An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin
Government Buildings, Tuesday 22nd December 2020.
On each occasion when I have stood here and outlined the Government’s strategy for managing the spread of this disease, I have put it very plainly.
We work to suppress the virus when it is growing and we work to reopen as much of society and economy as possible when it is safe to do so.
We will act quickly and decisively in response to every new development.
The one thing which remains absolutely consistent about this virus is that it is potentially deadly, and if it is left to spread unchecked it will reach the most vulnerable. And they will pay a heavy price.
A fortnight ago, after six weeks of very difficult restrictions, people were given the chance to prepare for Christmas and spend time together. The hospitality trade was reopened in a limited way and intercounty travel was permitted.
It was important for people’s mental health and well being that there was some respite from the restrictions that had been in place.
It is also important that people have the chance to celebrate the Christmas period with their loved ones.
Unfortunately, in the last week, we have seen extraordinary growth in the spread of the virus. This is the same pattern that we have seen in the UK and across Europe.
Just this morning, figures suggest that we may now be seeing a daily growth rate of approximately 10%. This is very obviously a source of serious concern, and it is not sustainable.
While we do not yet have firm evidence that the new, more virulent, strain of the Covid virus is in our country, the rate of growth over the last week tells me that the safest and most responsible thing to do is to proceed on the assumption that it is already here.
Every time I have spoken to you, I have made it clear that I believe my first and most important responsibility as Taoiseach, and our first and most important responsibility as a Government, is to protect public health and well being.
We will do whatever it takes to get through this pandemic safely.
For that reason, the Government has agreed this morning to move quickly and meet the renewed threat aggressively and head on.
But before I explain to you what new restrictions will be introduced in the coming days, I want to say something which I feel is very important.
A lot of people will be receiving today’s news with a heavy heart. I know that I bring it to you with one,
But, each and every one of us need to remember, that while it may not feel like it, what we have done to date, and what we are doing now is saving lives.
Because of the sacrifices that so many are making, because of the restrictions that we are accepting in our lives, many many people are alive today who would otherwise not be.
As a country and as a community of people working together, we have managed to sustain one of the lowest rates of Covid mortality in all of Europe.
And we want to keep it that way.
That’s why, from Christmas Eve, until 12th January 2021 the Government has agreed to return to Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID with a number of specific adjustments:
- Non-essential retail may remain open. However, the retail sector will be requested to defer January sales events.
- Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools may remain open for individual training only.
- Hotels may only open for essential non-social and non-tourist purposes, except for guests who already have a booking and are due to check in up to and including St Stephens’ Day.
- Schools, Early Learning and Childcare Services will remain open.
- Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online.
- Non-contact training in pods of up to 15 may take place outdoors.
- No matches/events should take place except for professional and elite sports and horse racing and greyhound racing behind closed doors.
The following transitional arrangements will also apply in respect of the Christmas period:
- Restaurants and pubs operating as restaurants will close from 3pm on 24th December. Hotels may provide food and bar services to guests only after that point
- With regard to social and family gatherings, the current provisions, that is, visits from up to 2 other households, will remain in place up to and including 26th December.
- Visits to private homes/gardens will be allowed from one other household up to and including 31st December.
- In both cases, for those who are part of a support bubble, the bubble counts as one household.
- From 1st January onwards, no visitors are permitted in private homes/gardens, except for essential family reasons such as providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people, or as part of a support bubble.
- Travel outside your county will continue to be permitted up to and including 26th December inclusive. People away from their place of residence after that period will be permitted to return to their place of residence.
- Christmas religious services may take place, however religious services will return online after 25th December when places of worship may remain open for private prayer.
I know that these restrictions will pose huge challenges for some sectors of the economy but I want to reassure them that extra financial supports will be provided.
Yesterday, we marked the winter solstice, and in three days we will celebrate Christmas.
In any year, this is a week of light and hope, but those twin themes have never felt more important, more vital, than they do this year.
And as despondent as any of us might feel with the return of restrictions, it is important to remember that the hope is real.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel.
Vaccines are on the way.
Last night, I received confirmation that we will shortly receive delivery of almost 10,000 vaccines against this disease. The roll out of these will commence next week to our most vulnerable, and we will safely and swiftly build from there.
We first placed orders for vaccines back in July and we are mobilising an unprecedented national effort.
Vaccinating millions of people will take time and in the meantime we have to be very vigilant.
We cannot go any faster than we are allowed by the available supply of the vaccines and the dosing schedules required for them to be effective.
But I am certain that our vaccination programme will bring us greater freedom in how we manage the virus in the year ahead.
The real strength of any nation is its people.
Everywhere we’ve looked over the last nine months we have seen the strength of the Irish nation – in the selfless dedication of our healthcare workers and the professionalism of our teachers and school staff.
We have seen it in the quiet army of cleaning staff and caretakers who have kept so many facilities accessible and safe, and in the shop workers who have kept essential retail open, without complaint, throughout the entire pandemic.
We have seen it in the resilience of our small business owners and the hospitality trade who have faced so many challenges and have shown the strength to keep going.
And we have seen it in our children’s endless ability to adapt.
To all of these people, and to all the others who have followed the public health advice and done what was asked of them, I say Thank You.
Táim fíorbhuíoch diabh go léir, mar a dheireann an seanfhocal: Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na ndaoine. Caithfaimid léanúint ag obair le chéile, chun cosc a chur ar an víreas seo.
Táim cinnte go dtiocfaimid slán. Tagann an ghrian i gconaí i ndiaidh na fearthainne.
The very idea of Christmas is about showing our love and respect for others. That is why in normal times we put so much effort into spending time with family and friends.
It’s why we try to put away our everyday concerns and focus on the things we value the most.
This year, the way for us to show our love and respect for others is to act responsibly, to comply with the guidelines and to limit the spread of this virus.
This Christmas is going to be different, but it is also going to be very special.
We’ve lost many friends and neighbours to this disease, and many others didn’t get the goodbye they deserved because of the restrictions that the disease required.
We remember all of them, and together we look forward to brighter days.
I want to wish everyone a peaceful Christmas and a happier, hopeful, New Year.
Nollaig shuaimhneach shona daoibh go leir
Go raibh maith agaibh.