REVEALED: How Zero Covid activists deceived politicians

The Zero-Covid advocacy group, ISAG, passed information that “may or may not be true” to the Government, in order to give the Government the chance to “line up with our proposals”, Gript can reveal.

Dr. Anthony Staines, who has previously featured in Gript reporting as the author of an internal note telling ISAG members to “look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty“, was tasked by ISAG in the days after Christmas with contacting the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, to impress upon him that the B117 strain of Covid was “the key driver at the moment” of infections in the population. However, this was immediately followed up, in brackets, with (“may or may not be true, but offers government the chance to line up with our proposals”).

This suggests that ISAG was passing information that it knew to be, at best, unreliable, to senior politicians, in the hope of influencing policy in their political direction.

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The communication with the Taoiseach is not the only incident of ISAG members appearing to provide unreliable information to politicians.

ISAG has enjoyed a particularly good relationship with the Social Democrats (SDs), with the party endorsing ISAG’s policies, SD TDs routinely attending ISAG events, Roisin Shortall “welcoming” motions that reflect Zero-Covid thinking, and with Shortall being referred to inside ISAG as “magnificent” and someone who “may as well be a spokesperson for ISAG.”

Emails leaked to Gript, however, raise questions about the relationship between the SDs and ISAG and if the start of the relationship was based entirely on honest communication.

Two days before Christmas Aoife McLysaght, Julien Mercille, and  Tomás Ryan, had a call with Roisin Shortall TD and Eamon Murphy, the policy director of the SDs. The meeting apparently went well and the SDs, McLysaght told the members of ISAG, “are likely to back an elimination strategy, or at least something very close to that.”  Some points hadn’t quite been pinned down though and Murphy had some final questions for ISAG before the SDs committed.

One of those questions was how low the number of cases would have to get before lockdowns could be lifted. The SDs planned to “suggest that the lockdown should be maintained until we reach a target # cases, rather than a pre-determined amount of time.”  McLysaght had told the Social Democrats that ten cases per day was “manageable”, but she wanted to know if other members of ISAG thought this was a reasonable level to start reopening.

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UCC Professor Gerard Killeen, one of the founders of ISAG, responded, telling McLysaght that “5 per day was the Victoria threshold” but that “if we can get someone to buy into 10, let’s grab it and renegotiate en route!”. A plain reading of that statement would seem to suggest that Professor Killeen did not believe ten cases a day was “manageable”, but rather that it was a number that they could sell to the SDs who, once they had committed publicly, could be led to the correct number. It would, after all, have been deeply embarrassing if the SDs had attempted to reverse such a major policy position after having publicly committed.

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It is unclear if Professor McLysaght took Professor Killeen’s advice, or if she returned to the SDs will a lower number. No one involved in the story will comment on the story to Gript, despite multiple attempts, and so we cannot say exactly what happened in the end.

We offered Professor Killeen an opportunity to comment on this article prior to publication. We also asked him if he thought it would be fair to read his statement as, effectively, a suggestion to lie to the SDs in order to get them to commit to ISAG’s position. We have so far received no response.

We offered Professor McLysaght an opportunity to comment on this article prior to publication. We also asked the Professor if she had taken on board Professor Killeen’s advice and given the Social Democrats the impression that ten cases a day was a workable number in order to convince them to commit to ISAG’s proposals. We have so far received no response.

We offered Professor Staines an opportunity to comment on this article prior to publication. We have so far received no response.

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