Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 26 May 2020
Special Committee on Covid-19 Response
Business of Special Committee
The committee is now in public session. Deputies Ó Murchú, Daly, Catherine Murphy and Barry will be substituting for their party colleagues. There will be a substitute for me in the third session and we will know who that will be in advance of that session. Are the minutes of the meeting on 19 May agreed?
I wish to raise an issue relating to the minutes. Mr. Tom Parlon gave completely misleading information to the committee at one point in his contribution last week. He since corrected that information when he was interviewed last Friday on the "Today with Sarah McInerney" radio programme. It is important that he correct the record of the committee. He was asked specific questions relating to costs by several Deputies and gave information which subsequently received widespread coverage in the media. He now admits that information is wrong. The committee should contact him to ask him to correct the record of the committee. The committee should consider that aspect of the minutes.
The following day or the day after that, I raised the matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and asked him to provide an analysis of the issue commented on by Mr. Parlon. It would be worthwhile for the committee to receive that analysis as it would indicate the viewpoint of the Department and might be more accurate. If Mr. Parlon has withdrawn his statement, we need to clarify the position.
On a different issue, at the meeting last week reference was made to one third of all healthcare workers having tested positive. That statement was subsequently reported on by an RTÉ news programme. If one extrapolates from that reference, approximately 45,000 healthcare workers would have tested positive, which is incorrect. What ought to have been stated is that one third of those who have tested positive are healthcare workers. It is important that the incorrect statement be corrected. In fairness to the news presenter who reported on it, she was only following up on what was stated before the committee. It is important that we correct that statement. One third of those who have tested positive are healthcare workers. There are more than 130,000 workers between the HSE, private nursing homes and disability facilities, so 7,500 positive tests means less than 6% of them have tested positive. It is important that that message be conveyed rather than incorrect information.
Last week, we asked for correspondence on how the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, was established and between the various organisations about testing and other matters. Will we get that correspondence or are we waiting for the witnesses to decide on sending it to us?
Is it agreed to take the 31 items of correspondence received as noted? Agreed. I am informed that some correspondence was received late last night. I appreciate that Deputy McGuinness may not find that satisfactory but I am putting it on record.
The 31 items of correspondence received have been noted and members have received written submissions for today's meeting. We received a large volume of correspondence at 9.30 a.m. regarding issues raised last week concerning nursing homes.
I will make a quick point on that. I requested last week that we have that meeting at this hearing. We were asked by the secretariat to follow up with items arising from the hearings regarding follow-up documentation. That was supplied but, again, we got the information an hour and a half before today's meeting. It is a large amount of information and members must now trawl through hundreds of pages. It is not a coincidence that it landed at 9.30 a.m. We need to be much sharper and more robust with the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Department of Health. We need the information we are looking for well in advance of our sittings to allow us to do our jobs. That should be noted for our future work.
I thank Deputy Cullinane. I move on to the work programme. Following a meeting of the working group last Friday, it was agreed that any of the following members may take the Chair whenever required to do so by virtue of the absence of the Chairman, Deputies Butler, Carroll MacNeill and Cullinane. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Butler will chair today's third session.
The following meetings have been agreed in principle by the committee. Next week, we will deal with the use of private hospitals in the first two sessions and travel restrictions in the third session. On 9 June, we will take oral medical evidence on issues related to minimising the risk of a second wave while reopening the economy. We will also have two sessions on supports for businesses. The working group will meet again on Friday when it will consider a draft programme that will take us to mid-July. The output of that meeting will be submitted to next week's session for approval. Is that agreed?
No, but we can discuss it in the working group. We have witnesses waiting outside to give evidence. We have invited them here and I would like to move on to hearing from them. We can discuss these matters further in the working group on Friday, which Deputy Shanahan is welcome to join, as is Deputy McGuinness. I know Deputy Shanahan had some technical difficulties last Friday.
The last point to note is that arising from the proposals the committee has received and members should consider, the secretariat is preparing composite proposals. Is it agreed that those already prepared will be forwarded to members to give them an opportunity to propose changes by close of business tomorrow? Agreed.
Our request for a fourth session has not yet been considered by the Business Committee. It has not yet made a decision.
We move on to other business. I call Deputy Shortall.