Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
At its core, the Bill will give workers the right to fresh air and require employers to ensure proper ventilation is in place to enforceable standards to help in the ongoing fight against Covid. We have known for more than a year that Covid is an airborne virus and that clean air is crucial in preventing its spread, making measures such as ventilation and air filtration critical. This is of extreme importance currently in school communities but the response of the Minister, Deputy Foley, and her Department to ventilation has, at best, been sluggish. It is now crunch time when it comes to schools. Sinn Féin is calling on the Minister to act urgently to provide HEPA filtration devices in every classroom that requires them. The Minister has dithered and delayed on ventilation for too long and that must end now.
The provision of CO2 monitors is not sufficient to ensure clean air in classrooms. Monitoring the air quality is not good enough. Many classrooms do not have adequate ventilation and some classrooms do not even have windows. Children and teaching staff are freezing in their classrooms, wearing hats and scarves and now masks during the school day while windows are open in an effort to keep them safe. It should not be like this. It does not have to be like this. HEPA filtration has a key role to play in ensuring classrooms have clean air because they actively remove contaminants from the air. The Minister keeps telling us she wants schools to be kept open and functioning well, but she has to be willing to do what it takes to make that happen. She has to be willing to put money where her mouth is, and that means HEPA filters in classrooms. We hear this new mantra of "suites of public health measures", but in reality what we are seeing is more slapdash lack of leadership in schools and principals operating in a vacuum while parents are at their wits' end.
It truly seems remarkable that we are in this House today debating the introduction of legislation that relates to common sense when most of all, and this truly strikes me, we see the Government parties' failure again and again to deal with the most obvious during this pandemic.