FIANNA FAIL has suspended a public relations officer (PRO) after he claimed that Covid-19 was “the same as bad flu” and the death rate during the pandemic was no worse than normal.
John Kierans, who works for the party’s Louth/Meath Coastal Comhairle Dáil Ceantair (CDC), courted controversy after issuing two press releases detailing his claims.
The first send out late last month by Kierans attempted to draw comparisons between coronavirus and bad flu while the second claimed the number of people who died was no different in 2020 than it was in any other year.
“The salient point is that the number of people that died in Ireland in 2020 was no different from any other year,” the second statement claimed.
“To put it another way, we lost no more loved ones in 2020 than the year before.
“The prevailing belief that we have just lived through a period of excess deaths is simply not supported by the pertinent facts.”
He went on to claim the reaction to Covid-19 has been hysterical.
“History will record 2020 as a year of hysteria, not a year of pandemic,’ the release continued
“I suspect history will be unkind to the more enthusiastic proponents of mask wearing, contact tracing, social distancing and all the other impositions placed on society.
“People who appear smart today will look foolish in years to come, the anxiety, depression and gloom are unnecessary.”
Both press releases were issued on branch-headed notepaper in a move that has left many within the party angered at the suggestion the views represent those of the branch.
A Fianna Fáil party spokesperson confirmed Kierans’ suspension in a statement criticizing his actions and decision not to attend any of the meetings organised to discuss the matter.
“John has been suspended as PRO pending his attendance at a CDC Officer Board meeting,” they said.
“There have been two Officer Board meetings since the initial press release. John has not attended either.
“These remarks are John’s opinion and not a reflection of party policy.
“As John is currently suspended as PRO he is therefore not entitled to issue press releases on behalf of Louth CDC.
“The officer board agreed on Thursday night that any further press releases/statements/comments issued on behalf of the CDC must be jointly approved by the CDC Chair and Honorary Secretary beforehand.
“Any releases issued from John in the last two weeks should be treated as his opinion and his opinion alone.
“They are not the views of Fianna Fáil and John does not have the authority to publish/release any content on behalf of Fianna Fáil at this time”.
Local Fianna Fáil councillors issued a statement distancing themselves the claims.
“All Fianna Fáil Louth County Councillors disassociate themselves with the press release of Mr John Kierans," it said.
“We fully support the current national government policy on controlling, curbing and tackling the Covid-19 virus.
“We as a party always welcome internal debates on many aspects of our society and political issues.
“However, we are aware that the press release was made in Mr Kierans’ personal capacity without the authorisation or knowledge of the parties’ local organisation board.
“We understand that Fianna Fáil party headquarters are aware of this matter and will be following it up internally.”
Local TD and Minister for State Thomas Byrne has also backed the councillors’ statement.
He told the Irish Mail On Sunday: "The party follows science and facts. This pandemic is only too real and my deepest sympathies go to everybody who has been affected by it.”
Former FF TD for Louth Declan Breathnach echoed those sentiments.
“Everyone within Fianna Fáil is entitled to their personal opinion on any issue and equally they are entitled to express that publicly,” he said.
“However, they should not suggest that what they say is representative of the view of either a branch or the party overall when clearly it is not.
“The issue here is John never clarified that this was his own opinion.”
Despite the backlash, Kierans has remained defiant on the subject.
He told the Irish Mail on Sunday: “I was duly elected as the PRO in 2016 and cannot be unelected, there is no facility for that to happen.
“I have repeatedly said on social media that this is not FF policy.
“It is a subject for debate in a party that has debates on policy.’
He continued: ‘The only policy statement that I did make was: “Under Micheál Martin’s leadership, Fianna Fáil remains undaunted in its commitment to open discussions and policy formation from its membership.”
“I will continue to act in the best interest of the party.”
Data compiled by the Central Statistics Office that show 14% more people died in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter of 2019 – 8,582 compared with 7,519.
According to the CSO and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) lower preliminary figures are the result of delays in registering deaths for the full year, as well as a reduction in the number of people dying from normal flu because of the restrictions in place.