50 days after the first Covid 19 infections were diagnosed within meat plants – and after four weeks of persistently raising this issue with authorities along with a handful of other TDs – we eventually get movement from the HSE, the Health and Safety Authority & the Department of Agriculture.
50 days after the initial infections in plants, the Health and Safety Authority is starting to carry out inspections. This is despite the fact that the HSA has the capacity to carry out 80 inspections a day and could have inspected all 56 meat plants in a single day. Yet it took this matter to be highlighted again and again on the floor of Dáil Éireann before we eventually had movement just this week.
And 50 days after the first infections, the Minister for Agriculture has now agreed that his officials will be involved in ensuring the implementation of the HSE’s national standards for meat plants, which were just published last Monday – something that took 50 days to be circulated.
And today, despite my calls up to now, we have the National Public Health Emergency Team discussing the infection rate in meat plants with over 800 staff now having tested positive.
And this has all happened by holding Ministers & officials to account in Dáil Éireann this week. I hope those who criticised us for allowing the Dáil to sit at all will take note!
But my big concern is that it has taken so long to act on a very serious situation where 94% of all infections in the workplace are centred around meat plants. Despite the growing level of infection, it took 4 weeks of me persistently raising this issue with the HSE and ultimately having secured a specific focus debate on it in Dáil Éireann before decisive coordinated action was taken.
So, what will happen if we have issues of concern in other sectors of society?
Have we to go through all of this again? Have the managers of this pandemic learned?
I fear not, this type of sluggish approach is similar to the one taken with our nursing homes and it’s clearly understandable now why there has been such a large death rate in the nursing homes from the feedback that I have been receiving from those working in the sector.
Sadly, what I’m hearing is now so familiar, when I see what has happened within the meat industry.
We urgently need to renew our management of this Covid-19 infection.