Nearly half of Cabinet calls for relaxation of 2m social distancing rule

By Daniel McConnell
Political Editor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is requesting an urgent meeting with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) after nearly half the Cabinet demanded a relaxation of the 2m social distancing rule.

Several ministerial sources, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have confirmed that a “proper ding-dong” took place with some ministers advocating the adoption of World Health Organization guidance, which states that a one-metre distance is considered to be safe.

Such a reduction to a one-metre distance would be a “game-changer” for many small businesses, restaurants and schools.

At Cabinet, it is understood that the so-called “civil libertarian” ministers called for a speedy relaxation of the rules along the lines of what the WHO are recommending.

Their calls came amid growing frustration at Ireland’s hardline restrictions, especially when authorities have said the Covid-19 has been suppressed.

It is understood junior health minister Finian McGrath took a strong line in supporting a move to the one-metre restriction, a speeding up of loosening restrictions for special needs children. He is also understood to have advocated introducing a 20km limit for those seeking to play golf and senior citizens while also urging quicker turnaround times for testing.

Sources have said that following a lengthy debate, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar concluded by advising he would try to arrange a meeting between the seven or eight ministers backing the proposal and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and his team.

This meeting could happen in the coming days, sources suggested.

The Restaurant Association of Ireland said were NPHET to concur with the Cabinet’s proposal to reduce the social distance limits, it would have a “game-changing” effect on their members.

Also at Cabinet, ministers also approved a ten-week extension to the work of the State inquiry into the sexual abuse case of a girl with disabilities, known as 'Grace', after presentations from Minister Harris and Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath.

The inquiry into what happened at a foster home in the southeast, led by barrister Marjorie Farrelly, has now had its reporting deadline extended to 24 July.

The Farrelly commission was established after the Irish Examiner revealed the extent of the horrific abuse suffered by Grace and 46 other vulnerable adults who went through the foster home.