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TOP HEALTH OFFICIALS such as the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and the HSE’s Chief Executive Paul Reid appeared before the Special Dáil Covid-19 Committee today. 

The meeting, which would usually take place in one of the committee rooms, took place in the Dail chamber today, due to social distancing requirements. 

Christina Finn here, Political Correspondent with TheJournal.ie. I’ll be taking you through the first part of today’s committee meeting which is due to kick of shortly. 

The committee is now in private session, but first up is the Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, which most people will be familiar with from the daily Department of Health briefings on the latest Covid-19 figures.

The General Secretary of the Department of Health Jim Breslin is also due to appear.

There are three two-hour sessions today and members only have five minutes of speaking time each, so they’ll have to use their time wisely.

The Secretary General at the Department of Health will tell an Oireachtas Committee this morning that Ireland’s response to the the Covid-19 crisis could last for years.

In his opening statement before the Dáil’s special committee on Covid-19, seen by this website, Jim Breslin will tell politicians that the social and economic costs of the crisis “will be with us for some time”.

His appearance comes as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 reached 24,200 last night, with 1,547 people confirmed to have died.

You can read more from Breslin’s opening statement here.

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The Secretary General Jim Breslin is the first official to read his opening statement today.

“All crises come in phases. This public health crisis has a particularly prolonged acute emergency phase.

“We have made definite progress in getting virus levels back down through stringent public health restrictions.

“But the social and economic costs of COVID-19 have been huge and will be with us for some time. Yesterday saw the first easing of these measures under the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business,” says Breslin.

He adds:

“The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months and most probably in years, rather than days.”

Breslin adds: 

The HSE has striven each week to increase testing capacity with opening 47 testing centres operational, commissioning COVID-19 testing at 40 additional labs, procuring supplies against a backdrop of global shortages, implementing IT systems to manage referrals and automating processes.”

On nursing homes, Breslin states that congregated settings are by virtue of their physical nature and the susceptibility of those living there recognised by the WHO and ECDC as involving higher risk of infection.

“The deaths we have experienced in our long-term care facilities are the most difficult aspect of our experience with COVID-19 so far. The testimony of those who lost loved ones and can’t say goodbye in the normal way is truly heart breaking. The international experience involving similar or, in some cases, worse problems than our own has been highlighted by WHO and ECDC who made specific recommendations for this sector in mid to late March.”

Breslin concludes his statement:

“We must be frank in acknowledging that as the crisis is continuing our conclusions must be tentative and preliminary. Because the virus is so new there is much that we still don’t know.

“A proven manual was not available at the outset on how this public health crisis should be managed. We are paying careful attention to international advice and experience.

“Decisions are being made in real time based upon public health principles, data and our own experience. We are all students seeking to learn. The threat from the virus will be a reality for the foreseeable future and we must all work to protect the space for enquiry and learning if we are to successfully and continually adapt our response.”

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Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan says it quickly became apparent early in the year that coronavirus was very different to any disease they had seen before.

He says the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has met 31 times this year.

In March it became apparent that “unprecedented” actions were needed to prevent the spread of the disease. 

There is no certainty that we can keep this virus suppressed, despite the progress to date.

He says public health advice should be taken on board in reopening the economy, but adds that the government will also have to take in other considerations, such as socio-economic concerns.

Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly is the first to ask questions. He is focusing on the taking over of the private hospitals, testing as well as other healthcare treatment. 

He says the 30% occupancy rate in private hospitals is concerning. 

“The intention is noble… but it is clearly not working,” he says. 

Breslin says the department is looking at how to ramp up non-Covid services, but cites endoscopy as one previously routine procedure which will now take longer due to PPE and sanitary needs.

“We will be in a very challenged healthcare environment for the foreseeable future.”

He says such treatments will “cost more” and it is likely we will be doing less of them in the future.

Holohan says New Zealand is on the other side of the world, so comparisons with that country are not entirely valid. He says the virus was a much later event for them, and they did take decisive actions. 

“We were close to the epicentre of this virus while New Zealand was not,” says Holohan.

On Sweden comparisons, he says intensive care is a much better indicator. In Sweden this is a much bigger challenge for them, stating that when he checked yesterday, there were over 400 people in the ICU in Sweden.

The would be the equivalent of 200 in ICU here, says Holohan.

Holohan confirms that Ireland now has 50 people in ICU today.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly asking about nursing homes and healthcare workers. 

Holohan says there has been a challenge with healthcare workers, stating that they have been prioritised for testing. 

“We have been proactive but there has been a challenge,” he says, stating that those workers are at risk of picking up the virus due to the nature of their work.

They are also a source of potential infection, he adds.

There has been a “substantial fall” in the number of cases in healthcare workers in the last few weeks, says Holohan.

O’Reilly says 72 hours is the timeline for testing and tracing, and asks how close we are to it. 

Holohan says the turnaround times have improved recently, but more work has to be done. 

97% of people are getting results by text, he states, as the majority of people are testing negative for Covid-19.

Fine Gael Fergus O’Dowd raising concerns in relation to Hiqa inspections of nursing homes.

He cites 2018 Hiqa reports about non-compliance in nursing homes through inspections, stating that only 215 of 500 nursing homes were inspected in 2018. 

O’Dowd wants to know if all nursing homes are now compliant in infection control.

Breslin says that infection control guidance is in place. “That is not to say that this is easy,” he says, stating that it is more infectious than flu. 

The Secretary General says he won’t say all of it has been “perfectly executed”.

But he adds that there “is no doubt this is absolutely a focus in the public health effort”.

Ossian Smyth of the Green Party speaking now about when people with cancer concerns and long-term illnesses will get the treatment they need.

He believes many of these people will die, and this will be shown in the mortality rates in the coming months.

Breslin says the whole health service has been restricted, and points to difficulties in getting private consultants to sign up to the new contract that will operate during the emergency. 

Describing the talks with hospital consultants as “protracted”, he said patients who are being treated by a consultant who has signed up will simply be moved over to the public system. One distinction is they don’t have to pay a fee.

He confirms that 280 consultants have signed up.

If their consultant has not signed up, there are arrangements in place that they can stay  with that consultant or they can move to another private consultant that has signed up. 

Labour’s Duncan Smyth asking the CMO Tony Holoahn about the publishing of the NPHET minutes and the membership of the team.

Holohan says the membership has grown “due to our needs”, states that the team has “co-opted people along the way”.

This line of questioning follows concerns about the delay in publishing the minutes raised by Labour leader Alan Kelly in recent weeks.

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Holohan says he can’t say what the timeline is for publishing the models that are used to work out the reproductive number, but he says it is due to be published.

He says he will check and report back to the committee about the publication date.

This follows questions from Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats who asks Holohan if he will also publish the risk assessments done in relation to the big decisions, such as re-opening the schools.

Holohan says any material used to reach those decisions is framed in the minutes of the NPHET meetings.

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett asks about testing.

Holohan says there is new advice from the ECDC hot off the presses on testing in the residential care sector and that will be looked at closely.

Breslin says he doesn’t know the number of surgeons who have signed up to the new contract, but says they haven’t experienced low numbers of surgeons signing up.

When asked about employers being informed of a worker’s testing result, Holohan says “that is a breach of someone’s confidentiality. Full stop”.

The secretary general says it is not the case that we are done with our efforts. “We could be subject to a further wave,” he says, stating that department would have to then look again at our ICU capacity again.

He adds that it is really important that we have a home help service back up and running, and this is being looked at.

Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness now asking if regional re-opening has been looked at. He also wants to know how much exactly per month is being paid for the private hospitals.

Is there an overall plan for the use of private hospitals, he asks. He says there are predictions of an extra 18,000 deaths from cancer. McGuinness wants to know if that is an accurate estimate.

Breslin says Ireland was looking at Italy and France in the early days, and it was the case that ICU capacity was going to fill up rapidly.

“That was the focus of the arrangement [with the private hospitals],” says the secretary general.

“We needed immediate access,” he says, confirmed that the deal will now have to be reviewed. Breslin says we “could find ourselves back in that situation”, citing that another wave could come and hospital capacity will be needed.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane asking about advice to nursing homes in early March. 

Holohan confirms there are over 200 clusters in nursing homes, but he says it doesn’t relate to visitor restrictions imposed.

Cullinane now asking about correspondence between the department and Nursing Homes Ireland. He understands the correspondence was raising concerns about the lack of a plan in dealing with the spread of the disease.

Breslin says he can share that correspondence, and it related to getting representation on a number of groups, such as NPHET. Breslin says Hiqa sits on the team and that was deemed adequate.

“There has been continually updated guidance to the sector,” he says, adding that there are private and public nursing homes, so some are not line managed by the HSE.

Fine Gael’s Colm Brophy asking about the use of private hospitals. He says if the secretary general is saying we will have to live with this virus for some time to come, that would indicate that the deal with private hospitals will have to be extended. 

He is asking about whether people should continue with private health insurance.

Chair of the Covid-19 committee Michael McNamara closing the session shortly. 

Holohan says we “have effectively extinguished” the virus from the community. Some positive results are still coming through from nursing homes, but they are low.

“We have it down to a very, very low level. We don’t have widespread community transmission,” concludes the CMO.

That’s it for session one with CMO Tony Holohan and Secretary General of the Department of Health. 

Next up is the HSE boss Paul Reid and his officials, followed by the HSA and Ictu.

Join us back here shortly.

Conor McCrave here taking over the liveblog this afternoon.

Session two is just getting underway with the HSE’s CEO Paul Reid, Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry and Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor.

All three are speaking to TDs in the Dáil Chamber via video link from Committee Room 1 in adherence to social distancing guidelines. 

CEO Paul Reid in his opening remarks says “we will be contending with Covid-19 for some considerable time to come”.

Reid, Henry, and O’Connor will be discussing testing and tracing, the spread of the virus in congregated settings, and reopening the economy. 

Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler asks if there will be plans to roll out testing on monthly or bi-monthly testing in residential settings. 

Reid says “this is a novel virus and as it has spread across Europe every country is learning about it and we too have been learning how it is spread, particularly in congregated setting”. 

Reid says there is a significant testing regime in place and the HSE is “currently getting some guidance” on a long-term strategy to “set out the whole testing and process” in the coming weeks. 

Butler is also asking for a plan for breast check and cervical check to resume – the services were suspended during the public health emergency. 

“I believe the time has now come to supercharge screening services as a matter of priority,” says Butler asking when these services will resume in full.

Dr Colm Henry says “it is far to early to say” when the screening programmes can return to normal operations during the Covid-19 emergency. 

Henry says that screening services will be “focusing on symptomatic patients… and supporting symptomatic services to get back up and running” in the short term.

Paul Reid says that an average of 6,000 tests were carried out per day last week, saying “with the levels of demand that we have, we have met the levels of demand.”

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy is asking how many employers were told of test results before employees.

Paul Reid responding says “in relation to the employers we’ve been proactively testing over the past couple of weeks, there is a responsibility to get the results of those out quickly”.

Reid says that in “exceptional circumstances such as a pandemic” results may go through an employer first but “ultimately that is not the way we want too see this done, we want to see this done directly through the individuals”.

Paul Reid says that of the number of healthcare workers diagnosed with Covid-19, some 3.7% of those, or 259 cases, were admitted to hospital.

This compares to 13% of positive cases which were admitted to hospital in the broader population. 

Meanwhile, a total of 42 healthcare workers, 0r 0.61% of the admitted hospital cases were then admitted to ICU.

 

Some 43 healthcare workers, or 0.61%, have been admitted to ICU.

Green Party TD Ossian Smyth is raising concerns that some people with private healthcare policies are not getting access to treatment as a result of the private hospitals being used by the HSE. 

Reid says “clinical care pathways are still there for a person being treated by a private consultant in a private hospital group”. 

Labour TD Duncan Smith asks if there is consideration being given to offering counselling to healthcare workers on the frontline in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Reid says helplines, engagement sessions and mental health supports are currently in place and he is committed to extending those into the future and beyond the public health crisis.

He added that there has been a significant take up in those supports.  

Paul Reid insists the vast majority of tests are being turned around within 48 hours but tests taking from patients in congregated setting such as nursing homes and ICU settings are “complicated” and take longer. 

Richard Boyd Barrett now asking why nurses, who responded to the call for healthcare staff in the past two months, are being hired through temporary contracts from agencies rather than directly employed by the HSE. 

The People Before Profit TD recalls one nurse who contracted Covid-19 and is in isolation but will not be paid sick leave due to the nature of her contract. 

Reid says there has been “a range of contracts put in place” but the “vast majority” have come in through the HSE directly.

He says that 2,400 positions have been filled across the HSE and 1,200 of those were recruited by HSE teams on full time permanent contracts. 

He adds: “Yes, I have no doubt some people will have been recruited on a temporary contract… and they will be revised” as the emergency goes on.  

COO Anne O’Connor says that prior to the Covid-19 emergency, some 51,000 people were in receipt of home support.

That figure has fallen to around 40,000 – a drop of around 11,000.

However, O’Connor says that the majority of people in that 11,000 lost home support “at their own request because they didn’t want people coming into their homes.”

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly asks Paul Reid whether patients moving from hospital settings to nursing homes brought the virus into nursing homes. 

Paul Reid says that to suggest “the transmission of the disease can be tracked back to people moving from hospital settings to nursing homes, there is no evidence whatsoever and I think that would be misleading.

“The evidence where the transmission within nursing homes can be tracked back to is something Nphet is working through and trying to get a better understanding of.”

CMO Dr Tony Holohan and other members of Nphet have denied there is any evidence to suggest this was a path of transmission. 

Fine Gael’s Fergus O”Dowd is talking about “the nightmare scenario that happened in a nursing home in my own constituency of County Louth” which was taken over by the HSE due to a large cluster of cases. 

O’Dowd is asking: “When did you first decide to intervene in the nursing home sector because it seems to me and I would like to know… when the request came in for PPE from around the country, what was going on at senior administrative level?

Dr Colm Henry again pointing to the lack of information among medical professionals around how the virus behaves during the early days of the outbreak in Ireland. 

Anne O’Connor is saying the HSE was struggling to obtain PPE as cases began to emerge in nursing homes. 

Paul Reid finishing up now saying the cost of testing and tracing has so far reached €35 million.

Reid is estimating that costs will run into several hundred million euro into the future. 

And that’s a wrap from me, Conor, at this afternoon’s Oireachtas committee session. 

Sean Murray will be with you shortly to keep you up to date with the third session of the day, when the Health and Safety Authority’s CEO Sharon McGuinness and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ general secretary Patricia King will address the committee. 

Stay safe!

Thanks for that Conor. 

In the next few minutes, we’ll begin to hear from Dr Sharon McGuinness and Patricia King. 

Dr McGuinnes is expected to say that – while it’s a general rule that inspections from the Health and Safety Authority are unnanounced – its inspectors may have to arrange a suitable time to visit workplaces due to the Covid-19 arrangements that employer has in place.

Expect her to be pressed on that by TDs after she gives her opening statement. 

committee

As I’m sure my colleagues have pointed out below, it’s a strange set up here in the Dáil.

Two of those giving statements to the committee are in the Oireachtas committee rooms, while the politicians are in the Dáil.

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And so we begin for the third and final session today. 

Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions speaks first.

She’s stressing the importance of safe workplaces for workers to feel confident they can return to work within the protocol agreed with unions, the HSA and other authorities.

“This virus is very active and can cause serious personal injury to a worker who may contract it,” King said. “These measures, therefore, seek to mitigate the risk to workers and are vital to maintaining safe workplaces.

“This is not a set of discretionary guidelines but a suite of mandatory directive actions with no exceptions or opt outs.”

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Now we have Dr Sharon McGuinness from the Health and Safety Authority.

She stresses the importance of the Return to Work protocol that has been agreed.

“The key to a safe return to work over the next number of weeks is shared collaboration, communication, compliance with, and also enforcement of, the measures outlined in the Protocol, which sets out in detail the steps businesses, employers, workers need to implement in order to reduce the risk from Covid-19 in the workplace,” she says.

Dr McGuinness says that during a site inspection, a range of enforcement actions arise.

These includes improvement notices or prohibition notices. If what they witness at a workplace is so serious, they can apply ex-parte to the High Court to restrict the use of that place of work. 

She says their inspection regime has been “refocused” to oversee compliance with the return to work protocol. 

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McGuinness is talking about unannounced visits now, and stresses that they may need to notify businesses in advance of an inspection in “very few” cases.

She says: “As a general rule, Authority inspections are unannounced. However, due to the fact that workplaces may have different working arrangements in place to protect against Covid-19, the Authority may need in a number of cases to arrange a suitable time to visit.”

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Tom Parlon from the Construction Industry Federation is speaking now.

He says he wants to commend construction firms for their commitment to safety during this crisis.

“Our industry is well placed to contribute to economic recovery,” he says. “100,000 of our employees can be taken off the [wage subsidy scheme] and [covid unemployment scheme.”

Parlon adds there wasn’t a “big bang” yesterday when workers returned to their jobs, and it’ll take several months to get activity back to pre-Covid levels. 

 

Parlon says the economy must be restarted in a way that prevents the spread of the virus.

He says the construction sector is taking the responsibility seriously as they return to work. 

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Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness is asking the first questions.

He’s asking about the costs incurred to the builder/contractor through the delays and measures taken to ensure safety.

“It’s clear to me there’ll be a huge amount of cost,” he says, asking what the impact will be on contracts.

Parlon says he’s heard of a housebuilder who thinks the extra cost per house will be €10,000 to €15,000. For apartments, that could be as high as €20,000. 

He says they’re expecting a new note on this week on what’ll happen with State contracts. It could be in the region of 5-10% extra.

Fianna Fáil’s McGuinness is asking his namesake from the Health and Safety Authority if her organisation has enough inspectors and enough funding for the period now upcoming.

Dr McGuinness says they’ve 67 inspectors this week who’ve been out inspecting premises. She says the government has acknowledged the HSA needs more money.

The discussions with government are “quite advanced”. 

The Fianna Fáil TD also asks if there are fears related to equipment and for inspectors going on sites.

She says they’re doing inspections in line with public health advice, and that they’re working hard to ensure access to PPE. They have access to this PPE now. 

McGuinness’ last question is to union boss Patricia King.

She says having just 67 HSA inspectors “aren’t adequate at all”.

“The government has to improve resource to the HSA to do this job,” she says, adding that they’re not satisfied the inspectorate resource is there to cover just the return of the construction sector. 

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Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane is posing questions now. 

He says his questions are related to process and ensuring there’s a plan in place to protect workers as the economy re-opens.

Cullinane says protocols are irrelevant if the HSA doesn’t have the adequate resources.

He’s asking if the 67 inspectors will cover all sectors, asking when there will be more and asks if this number is broken down regionally.

The HSA’s Dr McGuinness says it’s broken down regionally, with specialist teams across the country. Specifically for the south-east, she says there would be eight inspectors covering this region.

“I am confident the resources we need will be given to us,” she says. 

Cullinane is pressing her for figures for how much resources will be granted, or needed.

She says she’d prefer not to give an exact number because discussions are ongoing. “The challenge is we’re reopening the roadmap on a stage basis,” she says, and adds there have been 80 inspections since the beginning of yesterday. 

“I think it’s unacceptable we can’t have the number,” Sinn Féin’s Cullinane says. “If you can’t give it to this committee, it doesn’t fill confidence in me the HSA will have the capacity it needs.”

Cullinane now asks King if she’s in any way comforted by the number of 67 inspectors and the lack of clarity on how many more there will be.

King says it’s “no comfort”.

“The HSA inspectors who are very professional people – we will need many more of them,” she says. 

The union boss adds that there are those with expertise across all sectors who could be reassigned while the pandemic is ongoing.

She says: “In the workplace, having the voice of workers heard without any form of them feeling threatened or anything else – we don’t have laws in this country. The trade union movement has very good health and safety people who are trained who can offer the expertise.”

Sinn Féin’s Cullinane asks if any complaints have been received in relation to meat factories.

Dr McGuinness says the HSA has received a number of complaints, but inspections haven’t yet been carried out. 

“That again doesn’t instil me with any confidence to how your organisation will respond to other queries,” he says.

The HSA CEO replies that arrangements are being made for inspections as we speak, and the priority had been to prevent these outbreaks from spreading to the community. 

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Fine Gael’s Colm Brophy up now.

He wants clarity that there wasn’t an inspection because the priority was to try to contain the infection outbreak in the meat factory in question.

He’s asking if Dr McGuinness is actively looking at expanding capacity for inspections. She says that is the case. 

Brophy also asks if the option of recently retired people with expertise coming forward and doing inspections is being explored.

Dr McGuinness says that could be the case, however with the resources coming from government the HSA should be in a position to comply with the back to work protocol. 

Brophy turns to Tom Parlon from the Construction industry now.

Anecdotally, he says bigger employers will be better able to operate.

He says there’s an obligation to keep an eye on the “smaller guys” to ensure compliance with the rules.

Parlon says he has reports of over a dozen inspections in his industry since yesterday. 

“The industry has come together on this. I don’t accept the smaller guy is any less diligent,” he says. 

Tom Parlon has just said the Covid-19 measures could add up to 40% to the cost of complex infrastructure projects like the National Children’s Hospital. 

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The Green Party’s Francis Duffy wants to know who’ll be responsible on sites for ensuring the health requirements are adhered to.

He also wants to know about the possibility of redundancies, and if government contracts will be extended “in the context of where we’re at”. 

Patricia King, from the ICTU, says social distancing is the defence against the virus. “Only in exceptional cases, where it is described as close working, the required PPE will need to be in place,” she says. “That’s very clear in the protocol.”

King says those workers who are the designated “anti-Covid” person should be very visible onsite. 

“These representatives have to be afforded the respect and support of workers in the place,” she says. “If that infrastructure works and is respected, you’ve a much better chance of ensuring on the ground that all those measures are in place.”

Tom Parlon says he doesn’t agree with ICTU very often, but says they’ve been very united on this.

“If there is a need for closer working, you should look at every option to do it differently,” he says. 

“Just yesterday, both the unions and CIF have come to an agreement that will be signed tomorrow… the union rep on site will be the eyes and ears of the workers. They can bring it to the attention of the Covid supervisor and it’s brought to management.”

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Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall is up now. 

She says a construction site in her constituency opened illegally several weeks ago. 

“People were really concerned about the threat to the community,” she says. “I’m not satisfied there’s been adequate risk assessment done [for the effect on the community].”

Patricia King says there should be an “on the spot fine” for companies found to have breached the protocol. 

Shortall says it’s “mind boggling” that in some cases the HSA can’t do unannounced inspections.

Dr McGuinness says she made it clear that the majority of inspections are unannounced. 

She says over 80 inspections were carried out yesterday and they were unnannounced.

If they have to notify a company in advance, it will be “very limited” and “not be a norm”. 

“We have looked at all complaints received [about Covid breaches],” Dr McGuinness adds. “They’ve run over the period from beginning of March. In terms of site inspections, not all of them would have warranted it.” 

paul murhy

Paul Murphy TD is up now and says he has a number of questions for Dr McGuinness.

“How can you have had 200 complaints and no onsite inspections?” he asks.

Dr McGuinness says a complaint has to be made, it has to be assessed, tracked and followed up with an employer.

“What we do do is ensure everybody is addressed,” she says. “Now we have a clear protocol in place.”

Murphy says he welcomes 80 in a day but how were there none before that? Was it a policy decision?

“Does the HSA now have the powers to enforce the public health guidelines? Has anything legally changed?”

Dr McGuinness says within the protocol it ensures they’ve the powers to act on against workplaces that break the public health guidelines. 

Independent TD Matt Shanahan is asking about insurance for smaller construction contractors specifically.

“Also, in the event of a Covid breakout on site, what determines whether you’d lock the site for a period?” he asks.

Parlon says it’s in the return to work protocol what should happen. 

“There’s a major attempt on site now to keep people separate,” he says. “Staggered breaks. If there’s an outbreak, we hope to be able to confine it.”

Michael Collins wants to know if there’ll be a cost to the taxpayer arising out of the delays to construction.

He also wants to know if house prices will be higher.

Tom Parlon says that in terms of projects, he says that a number of social housing projects that were close to completion were deemed essential and resumed operating.

“In terms of the extra cost, on the taxpayer or whoever, the economy is heading towards a major challenge,” he says. “The reality is it is going to add to the cost as well. It’s going to be a difficult balance to find. 

“The children’s hospital – to be completed – is going to have substantial costs,” he says. “Not every site has opened. Public sector clients were disappointed by the cavalier attitude shown to them… the ball is in the Office of Government Procurement’s court.”

He says the number of employees on the wage subsidy scheme has been massive. “A major challenge for the Department of Public Expenditure and the future government for how to deal with it… there are costs. It’s a fact of life.”

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly says she knows of a number of people who’ve made complaints, and they feel like they’re “screaming into the void”. 

“On the 200 complaints that were made, what happened to those?”

Dr McGuinness says all of them were addressed and followed up by inspectors where necessary. 

“We don’t always go back to the complainant,” she says. “We don’t tell people if we’ve inspected a site either.”

The last few TDs are posing their questions to the speakers, and we’re going to wrap it up now.

Thanks for joining us. 

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