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'High degree of anger': Concerns over compliance as 'arbitrary' county boundaries used to impose local lockdown

Local TDs have been reacting to the latest restrictions imposed on Laois. Offaly and Kildare.

TDs question whether there will be public buy-in for the new restrictions.
TDs question whether there will be public buy-in for the new restrictions.
Image: Leon Farrell

THERE IS A high degree of anger in County Kildare, Social Democrats Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy said yesterday evening.

Yesterday, the government confirmed regional restrictions for the three counties following an increase of Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks. 

From midnight residents in either of the three counties were advised not to travel outside of their county. People were asked to only undertake essential travel.

Under the new restrictions, which will last for two weeks, pubs and restaurants are to operate as takeaway only. Childcare facilities will remain open as will retail outlets.  

Murphy questioned the reasoning behind the county lockdown stating that the spike in cases is primarily focused on either food processing plants and Direct Provision centres in the counties. 

She said there is a lot of anger among the general public due to the problems in those sectors “not being dealt with”. 

“For months we have known about the issues related to those working in these factories and centres, and the living conditions these people are living in,” she said.

She said the county boundary is being used “arbitrarily” in this instance, stating that there are some areas in other counties that are actually a lot closer in distance to the meat factories than some areas that are in North Kildare.

She said it makes no sense that one pub can remain open just over the Kildare border and one inside the county, such as in Leixlip, must shut down.

“Why didn’t they use a map.” That is one of the questions Murphy said she would be asking the experts at last night’s briefing for local TDs.

Murphy said geography must be at the heart of any lockdown measure, adding that businesses that are no where near where these clusters have occurred are now facing the repercussions.

She said this will now be the template for any future lockdowns in other counties, and she wants an explanation about why such a blunt tool was used.

Compliance

Compliance with the first national lockdown was high, but Murphy said she has concerns about whether citizens in the three counties will adhere to the measures. 

“People will comply with what they see is sensible, good, sound, scientific evidence and where they don’t see it, they won’t,” she said.

Reacting to the news yesterday, Fine Gael TD for Kildare South Martin Heydon said it is a “very disappointing day for all residents and businesses across Kildare, Laois and Offaly”.

However, he agreed that all measures being taken are based on public health advice and “to ensure the safety of our citizens both here and across the country”.

“I’m working closely with my colleagues in Government and the public health advisory team to ensure all of the practical implications for local residents and businesses are understood with these developments today,” he said.

Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan said the measures had to be taken to contain the virus, stating the he agrees using the county boundaries is an “arbitrary tool” but added: “What else can you do?”

He hoped that people would comply with the measures. When asked about his constituents who had staycations planned, he said it was “unfortunate”.

“It’s tough and very disappointing for them,” he said, adding that hotels should look after their customers who are looking for flexibility with their cancellation policy.

‘Not thought out’

Another TD, and former Justice Minister, who is not happy with the actions taken by government is Charlie Flanagan. 

The Laois/Offaly TD told TheJournal.ie that the public health officials know where the clusters are and what caused them.

He said entire communities must not be penalised or punished for the failure to take action in the Direct Provision centres and meat factories.

“Local lockdown is an extreme response and seems not to have been thought out,” he said.

Speaking about residents in those counties who must now cancel their staycations, he said people who are denied a holiday in Ireland and who have already booked must be compensated by government.

Flanagan said local businesses will not survive a second lockdown and added the meat factory issue was well known and should have been addressed weeks ago.

While some politicians were quick to point out that Flanagan was in government until only recently, those in government circles acknowledge that these localised measures will be a lot harder to sell to the public.

In his speech last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke about the need for “solidarity”, but with some counties living under different rules from the rest of the country, perhaps even their neighbours down the road, public buy-in is key concern.

One minister said he had serious concerns about the public support in the three counties, adding that enforcement will be “community-led” like with the national lockdown. 

“Local lockdowns are better than a national lockdown,” said another minister. 

While they said the decision was a tough one, there is a real concern that the virus has seeped out into the community from the factories and centres.

More spikes predicted

There will be multiple spikes of this kind, said one minister, who added that this has been well-flagged, but the key is to ensure they are localised and shut down as soon as possible. The spikes do not necessarily represent a second wave, they pointed out.

This lockdown, and any subsequent localised lockdowns are going to be a lot harder than first time around, said the government source.

The public buy in will not be the same, and the idea of ‘we are all in this together’ will be destroyed when one section of the country has measures imposed on them when the rest of the country can carry on as normal, they added.

There is also real concern at government level of the division this particular lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly will have on the communities. 

The restrictions have been introduced after cases arose in factory workers, many of whom are migrant workers.

The same goes for the clusters in Direct Provision centres. There is concern that locals will blame others for why they can’t go to the pub, restaurant of local hurling match, and could stigmatise people.

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Questions are being asked about why the government didn’t see this coming? Why they didn’t look to other countries such as Germany, that have had similar spikes in meat factories?

Concerns about workers living together in close quarters often in cramped conditions have been raised before, with some asking if the workers will want to self isolate in the Citywest complex (this is the guidance should a worker be a confirmed case).

The issue of many of these workers perhaps being too afraid to miss out on their pay if they come forward with symptoms has also been highlighted. The issue of surprise inspections of these plants has also been highlighted in the Dáil Covid Committee. 

While these red flags seem to have been largely ignored, the Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn denies this is the case, telling reporters yesterday that HSE teams were put in place and have been dealing with 23 clusters in meat plants around the country.

Stepping up inspections

The Tánaiste is to meet with the Health and Safety Authority in the coming week to see if inspections can be stepped up.

Whether these workers are hearing the public health advice is also another concern, as is the worry that working practices and inspection rates at the plants themselves are not meeting the standards necessary to stop Covid-19 infections.

One minister said he was aware of one living quarters where Romanian workers were living together, but only had satellite Romanian television in the flat. 

“They are not getting our messages,” they said. Workers who get sick or have to self-isolate are entitled to a €350 payment per week, but they may not know that, said this source.

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