Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:32 am

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Paul Murphy and People Before Profit for bringing this Bill before the House. It is a practical, down-to-earth Bill that will achieve real progress.

I am pleased to hear that the Government supports the Bill in principle. However, I hope to see real urgency in progressing it. Earlier, the Minister of State, Deputy English, mentioned that there may be some legal difficulties with the Bill. That may be the case but we all know that Covid waits for nobody. Therefore, there must be immediate movement on this legislation. This is a practical, real measure that will make a difference. Listening to all the different speakers in the debate, it is clear that there is general agreement on that. That is fine. We can talk here but I will not be satisfied unless I see this Bill moving rapidly through the legislative process.

My time is short and I will focus on schools. As a former teacher, I have some idea of what is involved here. While this Bill is for all workplaces - it is important to remember that - that is where I will focus. One of the reasons I am doing that is because there is a real sense of urgency around schools. Teachers did their very best to work online from home but there is overall agreement that students need to go to school. Therefore, there is a special sense of urgency to make sure that they are safe places to work in.

The Department of Education website has a guide entitled, "Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools". There is a long list of instructions. The first is: "The over-arching approach for schools should be to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use ...". They tell us when that is: "break-times", "lunch-times", etc. Then we are told; "As most schools rely on the opening of windows ... it is important that windows and air vents can be accessed and opened." The third recommendation is to ensure rooms are "well ventilated before occupancy each day."

Moving down, recommendation 7 tells us, "In colder weather any local chilling effect can be offset by partially opening the windows nearest to and above the radiators." Recommendation 8 tells us, "It is important to make sure that air movement is not blocked by furniture or ... blinds and curtains." It is in the same vein, right up to recommendation 19. If ever I saw the Ladybird introduction to opening windows, this is it.

If I were a teacher now, or a school principal or a member of the board of management, I would be tearing my hair out reading what the Department is telling me, in steps for the deployment of good ventilation practices in schools, when that is all there is in place to ensure good ventilation in classrooms for students, teachers and school staff.

That is why I am so pleased to see this Bill. Hopefully, we are finally moving from the Ladybird version of how to ventilate the schools to legislation that will help to make our schools safe places.

Like every other Deputy present, I have received so many emails from parents and teachers, with parents telling me their daughters are coming home frozen and teachers telling how concerned they are, especially for those with underlying conditions. We have a good basis for legislation here. I would like immediate movement on this.


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