The Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) criticised Dr Tony Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) for proposing Ireland move to level five of coronavirus restrictions. During an appearance on The Claire Byrne Show on Monday, Mr Varadkar claimed the advice “hadn’t been thought through” and “came out of the blue”.
But Mr Varadkar has faced a furious reaction over his comments, which were seen as an attack on objective scientific advice.
Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane blasted: “I think it’s also very unseemly and wrong for the Government to answer back to the CMO in relation to concerns that they have raised about health capacity.
“All of the advice that Nphet gives is given in good faith and these are people who are tasked with a very difficult job to navigate our way through this crisis, evaluate where the threat and the risk is coming from and make recommendations to Government.
“Of course then the Government has to make decisions but it’s unacceptable that we have a push back and it’s unacceptable that we have an answering back.
“I warned the Government not to waste the summer months and to use the months to ramp up the capacity.”
Mr Cullinane added that he hopes the relationship between Government and Nphet is “repairable”.
He said: “I think undoubtedly damage was done but that was on the back of the Tanaiste’s comments, I think he has to take responsibility for that.”
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald added: “It is not helpful for a senior member of the Government to come out and gratuitously attack Nphet.”
The Social Democrats also hit out at Mr Varadkar’s comments.
The party’s co-leader Roisin Shortall said: “In the midst of a growing pandemic it was very unfortunate that we didn’t have clear public health messaging around what we all need to to try and suppress the virus.
“We didn’t have clarity or unity from Government.
“Last night’s interview with the Tanaiste was particularly disappointing.
“The attack he launched on Nphet and Dr Tony Holohan in particular was unwarranted, unhelpful and I think it served as a serious distraction from the task in hand which is to encourage us all to work together.”
Ms Shortall added that Nphet’s recommendation on Sunday came after data showed a “substantial change” in the level of the virus.
She said: “It was very clear that we were in a very dangerous situation where the five-day average has increased by 50 percent over the past week.
“The kind of evidence cannot be ignored.”
Catherine Murphy, also of the Social Democrats, added: “The messaging has to make sense to people, there’s no doubt that there’s a variation across the country, but there is no variation in the response and that is an issue.
“Why was such a plan put in place when there was an expectation that would vary if there was going to be variation.”
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said Mr Varadkar’s comments were divisive but added: “It cannot become Nphet versus the Government.”
A further 432 coronavirus cases and one new death were confirmed in Ireland on Tuesday.