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Dáil sitting prompts State’s top civil servant to remind TDs of Covid-19 guidelines

A number of TDs have said the government must continue to be held to account.

The letter from the Secretary General of he Department of Taoiseach Martin Fraser  has been criticised by a number of TDs today.
The letter from the Secretary General of he Department of Taoiseach Martin Fraser has been criticised by a number of TDs today.

THE STATE’S TOP civil servant has issued a letter to the Oireachtas which has been described as a “gentle criticism” over the Dáil sitting tomorrow.

Martin Fraser, the Secretary General of the Government, sent a letter to the Dáil Clerk Peter Finnegan, stating that “everyone in the country has been asked stay at home, subject to the limited exceptions which have been published by the Government”. 

“To do otherwise is to risk the spread of the Covid-19 disease and to put fellow citizens, including those working on the front-line in our health service, at risk.

“I am sure this public health advice will be uppermost in your mind and in the considerations of the Business Committee at this extraordinary time,” states the letter.

One TD described the letter to clerk as merely a “mild criticism”, with another stating it “holds no water”.

Others have been more exercised stating that the parliament has a role to fill in these times and politicians as public servants are deemed essential workers.

The letter, which has been emailed to all TDs today, said the government would “give priority to the national effort to deal with the public health emergency and to protect all of our citizens”.

All departments will be contacted to ask them to ensure there effective arrangements in place to respond to TDs’ queries, it also states. 

Tomorrow’s Dáil session takes place despite concerns being raised by some TDs about politicians returning to Leinster House during the Covid-19 restrictions. 

The Business Committee decided earlier this week that a limited number of politicians will attend the Dail for three hours for statements on health and social protection issues.

The Labour Party has said it disagrees with the decision of the Business Committee, stating that its TDs would not attend the sitting of the Dáil for statements as “it is non-essential business” and due to no legislation being proposed on that day.

“They will instead support the national effort to stay at home, and not place an unnecessary burden on the Oireachtas staff, and staff of those departments who are working heroically to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and it’s social and economic impact.

“There is a provision for statements to be laid before the Dáil instead, and our health spokesperson Alan Kelly TD, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection spokesperson Ged Nash will both avail of that opportunity as that is the business that is to be discussed. They will also publish subtitled videos of their statements on social media,” said the statement. 

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said “democracy needs to continue” and the government “must be held to account”.

He said it is “imperative” that the Dáil continues to meet so that the public’s concerns in relation to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and social welfare issues can be raised.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has also said it is “absolutely vital” that the Dáil continues to sit throughout Covid-19 crisis, including this week and over the Easter period.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there have been restrictions placed on the work that can carry on in Leinster House, with a limited number of TDs permitted in the Dáil chamber and social distancing adhered to. 

Only essential workers are permitted, such as politicians, civil servants, Oireachtas staff and journalists. Those that can work from home are urged to do so. 

A number of areas are closed off in Leinster House, including the Dáil bar and the canteen. It is expected the Press Gallery, where journalists sit to observe proceedings in the chamber, may also be closed tomorrow. 

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