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13,765 new cases reported as Martin says vaccines likely to be need annually

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A further 13,765 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Christmas Day, the highest single-day figure for infections in the State since the pandemic began.

Saturday’s number surpassed Christmas Eve’s record breaking figure of 11,182 cases.

Despite the steep rise in confirmed cases of the virus, the number of patients in the country’s hospitals continues to fall.

As of 8am on Saturday, there were 378 patients in the country’s hospitals with the virus, down from 393 on Christmas Eve. There 87 patients in intensive care, down from 89 the day before.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that annual shots of Covid-19 vaccines will be likely to retain immunity from the virus.

Mr Martin said the HSE is assessing plans to “switch on and switch off” vaccination programmes for annual jabs.

Mr Martin said he could not “definitively” say whether the highly contagious Omicron variant could help build up mass immunity through infections.

The Fianna Fáil leader said if the Omicron variant is less severe but more infectious, that it could “create a new horizon”.

Asked whether the Omicron variant could help the country out of the pandemic through mass infection, Mr Martin said: “Some people have put forward that view but I’m not expert enough, to be frank, to say that definitively.





Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland


10,232,590


9,107,139

“We know Omicron has actually re-infected people who’ve been infected before with Delta, which opens up the horizon of potential reinfection into the future.

“The key issue would be severity, you know, in terms of if it’s much more infectious but less impactful. That could create a new horizon – a new scenario – for the future.

“I’d be more hopeful than not that we’d be getting better at this. I just don’t have the data to be definitive about the surge.”

Mr Martin said the vaccination programme has been the “big game changer” over the last 12 months.

“Do we really think we’d be open today in terms of retail, construction and everything else if we had 4,500 cases or 5,000 cases and no vaccination?” he added.

“So, to me, it is the big game changer. So therefore doing a booster now.

“I know already Europe is already preparing a potential new dose or new vaccine for variants.

“That work is under way with the companies. One could be looking at an annual vaccination programme.

“I know the HSE are looking at a sort of stronger independent capacity that they can switch on and switch off vaccination programmes around this issue.”

Mr Martin said said the country will get better at dealing with Covid and emerging variants through antivirals and new treatments.

“That’s how I see us coping with Covid into the future whilst allowing our full economy back,” he added.

“The economy has come roaring back since we reopened since March.

“We have to be careful of that too because a lot of that energy was captured or suppressed by the Covid restrictions.

“There’s also a level of stimulus in terms of the European-wide stimulus programme and a lot of inflation has come through that but, nonetheless, the manufacturing side of our economy has been very strong and there’ll be a lot of domestic demand for quite a while.

“So we are in a much better position from that perspective than we would have been without vaccinations.

“You have advances in medicines for 2022. I’m more optimistic even though the current situation doesn’t reflect that.” – Additional reporting PA




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External investigation into Department ‘champagne party’ needed – Minister

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Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has called for an external investigation into a “champagne party” held by staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs staff in June 2020.

The gathering, which appeared to breach Covid-19 guidance in place at the time, was “inexcusable” and Minister Simon Coveney and his department have further questions to answer, the Fianna Fáil TD told Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One.

“Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency … it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland’s election onto the UN Security Council, and the image was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

Speaking on the same programme, Labour TD Duncan Smith said people were angered at the event because June 2020 was a bleak time for most people in Ireland. He said the public had seen other incidents where politicians and others were accused of breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

“These are the elites of society … what has really hurt people is that it really got to the ‘we are all in this together’ philosophy.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane agreed there needed to be an independent review of the matter, adding that Mr Coveney needed to come before an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil to gave a “frank and full account” of what happened.

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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