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Cabinet in chaos as Donnelly illness triggers virus fears

Ministers forced to restrict movements on day of confusion

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The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Health Minister arriving at the unveiling of the ‘Living with Covid’ plan shortly before Stephen Donnelly was taken ill and tested for Covid-19

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Health Minister arriving at the unveiling of the ‘Living with Covid’ plan shortly before Stephen Donnelly was taken ill and tested for Covid-19

PA

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Health Minister arriving at the unveiling of the ‘Living with Covid’ plan shortly before Stephen Donnelly was taken ill and tested for Covid-19

The entire Cabinet were told to restrict their movements as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly awaited the outcome of his Covid-19 test.

The Coalition was plunged into chaos as senior members of Government were taken by surprise by the sudden announcement yesterday evening they would now have to work from home in the coming days.

Mr Donnelly was advised to seek a test for the virus after he became unwell yesterday afternoon following the launch of the 'Living with Covid' plan.

Caution

However last night, within a matter of hours of being tested, the result came back as negative.

It means that Cabinet Ministers are no longer required to restrict their movements.

The 'Living with Covid' plan was signed off at a meeting in Dublin Castle which Mr Donnelly attended.

Some ministers reported that their Fianna Fáil colleague appeared visibly unwell at the Cabinet meeting.

Hours later the acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, who advised Mr Donnelly to consult with his GP, issued advice that those who attended the meeting should restrict their movements out of an "abundance of caution".

It was later confirmed that Dr Glynn was also restricting his movements, having attended meetings with the Health Minister in recent days.

"The communication has gone to all ministers to restrict their movements pending the outcome of that test," Mr Martin said on the Six-One News.

On a dramatic day for the Coalition it also emerged that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was already restricting his movements at home as a family member was being tested.

EU Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne was also self-isolating after developing a "mild cough".

The drama began shortly before 5pm when news of Mr Donnelly being unwell first emerged.

A short-time later, at 5.15pm, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl informed the Dáil that the Cabinet was being forced to "self-isolate" and that the House would be suspended for the rest of the week.

However, the Government later said that senior ministers were being told to restrict their movements rather than self-isolate. This means they had to avoid contact with others as much as possible rather than remaining indoors and effectively quarantined.

The decision to suspend the Dáil was reversed within the hour amid pressure from the Opposition.

Labour leader Alan Kelly rang the Taoiseach, who later confirmed that junior ministers would stand in for members of the Cabinet and speak on behalf of the Government.

The Dáil was returning because "we believe Ministers of State can take certain issues and represent the Government", Mr Martin said.

The Cabinet was being cautious because there were a number of meetings that Mr Donnelly attended in addition to his briefing with the whole Cabinet on the 'Living with Covid' plan.

Embarrassed

Mr Martin stressed that he would continue to work, via Zoom and on the phone. "I will be at my desk," he said.

Mr Donnelly, who had been due to take ministerial questions in the Dáil last night, left the Department of Health and went home. One source close to the minister said he would "hate the attention".

Justice Minister Helen McEntee was live on Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1 when the news broke. "I'm afraid that's the first time I'm hearing of this," she said.