Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
The question I am asked more often than any other is why it always appears that there is one set of rules for meat factories to abide by and a different set for everybody else. We have had discussions on beef importation and so on, but this week we learned that the Covid-19 test results of some workers were conveyed to their employers, meat factories in this instance, before the employees themselves. Has the Minister investigated in exactly how many cases this has happened? Does he agree that this behaviour is absolutely scandalous? We know the practice has been suspended, but the Government has not come out and said it should not have happened. Will the Minister do that now?
The Minister referred to the guidelines the Minister for Health has used to excuse himself from this debate. Regardless of how it is dressed up, there is no excuse for a Minister for Health to refuse to attend. The Ceann Comhairle sat through two full sessions today. Obviously, he is getting different health advice from that given to the Minister for Health. What has happened is simply not good enough.
When something affects the meat plants, little things always seem to work their way. We heard about the cattle exports being stopped in the past seven days, yet not a single factory has been closed down for a prolonged period. The guidelines the Minister for Health cited in the context of his refusal to attend state that if all of us spend more than two hours - even if those two hours are spread out - in this Chamber, in circumstances whereby we are all physically distanced, and if one of us contracts Covid-19, then we all have to self-isolate for 14 days. That is a million miles away from the standards operating in the beef plants, in respect of which, as Deputy Stanley just pointed out, there are all sorts of conflicting reports.
As for PPE, are face masks being provided to workers? An email I received today from a constituent in Cavan-Monaghan tells me that in the food production plant where they work, 95% of employees are not observing, and cannot observe, social distancing, and that face masks are not being provided. Will the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine ensure that this is not the case?
I must ask again about the HSA. Exactly how many inspections have taken place in meat plants? When did they take place? The Minister said this situation is constantly evolving. However, as Deputy Stanley stated, almost from the moment Covid-19 arrived on our shores it has been highlighted that meat plants would be particularly susceptible to clusters. Up until now, the correct action that is required has not been taken. I ask both Ministers present, in the absence of the Minister for Health, to take steps to ensure that that is now corrected.