Thursday, 18 February 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I return to the issue of antigen testing, which I have raised several times with the Tánaiste. The European Commission has advocated the use of antigen testing. The Irish Government said "No" and that it was not good enough to take up the 20 million antigen tests offered by the European Commission. It was not good enough to facilitate visits to nursing homes. It was not good enough to facilitate the return to schools or to make schools safer. Lo and behold, we woke up on Monday morning to find out that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is facilitating the antigen testing of workers in meat plants. Such workers operate under bonded labour, effectively, because the Tánaiste's Department will not change the work permit system.
I do not disagree with the decision to facilitate antigen testing in meat plants by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but, if it is good enough for this sector, why is it not good enough for others? My question is not about the decision. I do not disagree with the decision. How are decisions made by the Government? It is strange that it could not be looked at for every other sector, but when Larry and the lads rock up, it is, "Yes, sir; no, sir; three bags full, sir." On what possible basis is the Government making decisions around antigen testing, particularly given that the EU Health Security Committee has agreed today common standards across the EU, common data to be shared and common data to be included in results? If every other country in the EU thinks it is safe to use antigen testing, not as an alternative to PCR testing or for a clinical diagnosis but to get society back functioning, what is the obstacle in Ireland?
The second thing I will raise is a follow-on from a previous question, which I believe I can do, and it is in regard to banks.
Bank of Ireland has announced it is going to close 83 branches. We know what those branches will be because three of them are in my own county. They are the branches that were closed and reopened in a limited capacity following the previous lockdown. The State still has a 14% shareholding in Bank of Ireland. We bailed out Bank of Ireland, and now it is bailing out on us. It will result in elderly people, in particular, receiving a reduced service and businesses receiving similar. At the same time that is happening, various Departments hold their accounts with Bank of Ireland. As I said, there is a 14% State shareholding in Bank of Ireland.