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Parties to pay for politicians' antigen tests while Oireachtas staff to get tests for free

The Oireachtas says antigen tests will not be free to TDs and Senators.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ANTIGEN TESTS WILL be made available to Oireachtas members and staff from next week, the Dáil Business Committee has been told today. 

It is understood the whips of the three Coalition parties have written to the Ceann Comhairle requesting that both groups and parties in the Dáil should make a “full contribution” to the cost of antigen tests for each of their respective members. 

The business committee, which meets weekly in private to agree the agenda of Dáil business for the coming week, are understood to have been told that the taking the tests will be voluntary.

It is understood that three members of the committee suggested that TDs and Senators should pay for their own tests.

Concerns were raised at the meeting around the public’s perception of any notion that politicians might get the tests for free when the health minister has already stated that such tests won’t be free for ordinary members of the public. 

When asked about the matter, a spokesperson for the Oireachtas said in a statement:

“The antigen tests will not be free to TDs and Senators.

“As an employer the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is making tests available free of charge to its staff who have to be on site. This is part of our continued efforts to keep the Parliamentary Community and Workplace safe.”

There was a back and forth this afternoon between the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats over the issue, with the Ceann Comhairle stating that it was not true to say that politicians will get the tests for free. 

“Get your facts correct,” he told Gannon, adding: “You’re telling people something that’s completely incorrect”. 

Gannon said people are living in poverty in this country.

“It’s a pathetic excuse that we can’t have free testing for everybody across society,” he said, hitting out against the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly for stating that the government is not considering the free roll out of the tests, as has been done in other countries such as the UK. 

Gannon said people can’t be expected to pay for antigen tests. He said carers or one parent families don’t have the money to pay for the tests.

Minister Eamon Ryan said the main concerns around antigen tests and their wider use has been on a health basis in terms of the risks that would come with false negatives and  whole range of other different issues.

“I believe they have been overcome,” he said. 

The exact mechanism for delivery and the exact cost of rolling them out to the wider public is something that the Minister of Health has to decide upon, he added. 

Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond said there has been utter confusion around the matter this afternoon stating that the decision in relation to free testing was made by the Oireachtas Service in relation to staff working on the Leinster House complex. 

He confirmed that the party whips had written to the Ceann Comhairle to say that the parties “wouldn’t go along with that” in terms of politicians getting their tests for free, stating that the parties have said they will cover the costs for their members. 

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Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath, who has been absent from the Dáil for the last six weeks on health grounds following surgery, this week returned to attending Oireachtas Committee Meetings online.

McGrath confirmed that the impression given at the meeting was that politicians would get free tests, and explained his absolute shock at a proposal.

“This morning I attended a meeting of the Dáil Business Committee online. I was absolutely shocked to hear of a proposal that TDs and Senators would receive free antigen tests. 

“While I welcome the wider use of antigen tests, I raised my absolute disgust at a situation where TDs and Senators would be given free tests paid for by the taxpayer when so many are struggling to meet the cost of these tests.

“My office has been inundated with calls from members of the public who want to take a responsible step and use antigen tests but they do not have the financial means to purchase these tests. With tests costing anywhere between €5- €10 per test, a family of four could now be expected to pay up to €120 per week to take 3 tests in a week.

“This is unsustainable for the majority of families and I was absolutely appalled at the suggestion that TD’s and Senators would receive free tests,” he said. 

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said any suggestion that politicians should get free tests while ordinary workers and families are being forced to pay for them would be “ridiculous”.

“I welcome the fact that the Oireachtas has now changed its position. It is ludicrous that this suggestion could be entertained at a time when the government has no coherent policy in respect of antigen testing.

“Antigen testing needs to be rolled out widely and they need to be free; just like they are in the north. That must be a government priority,” he said.

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