'We are risking public health by being here' - Simon Harris uneasy about Dáil sitting amid Covid-19

'We are risking public health by being here' - Simon Harris uneasy about Dáil sitting amid Covid-19

The Health Minister Simon Harris has said today's Dáil sitting is a risk to public health after a heated row about whether it should go ahead.

Some TDs have sought for the Dáil to be adjourned until the end of April, with Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe calling today's meeting "deplorable".

They argue there is no essential business being carried out, but Sinn Féin and People Before Profit say it is essential TDs get to hold the Government to account over its response to the coronavirus crisis.

The Dáil will adjourn for two weeks after today, with Minister Harris saying the meeting is contrary to the advice they are giving the rest of the country.

He said: "I am deeply uneasy from a public health point of view that we are meeting in this session today, that does not mean that the Dáil can't meet.

"The European Parliament has met digitally, virtually, for quite a number of weeks, so I know it's not beyond us, with a little bit of ingenuity and a little bit of innovation, to do what workplaces across the country are doing.

"But be clear, we are risking public health by being here today."

He told TDs: “Days we don’t lead by example are days we should regret.”

Amid calls to postpone the session, the Dáil’s business committee met ahead of the start of proceedings and decided to go ahead as planned.

Committee members agreed to adjourn further sittings until the middle of April – a move subsequently agreed by the Dáil.

Social distancing measures were in place inside the chamber as a limited number of TDs met to make statements on the Covid-19 emergency this afternoon.

At the outset, several opposition TDs stressed the importance of the parliament still sitting during the crisis, highlighting the need to scrutinise Government decisions.

Independent TD for Donegal Thomas Pringle has been one of those arguing for the Dáil to sit through the crisis.

He said: "The Dáil is very necessary and it does need to be in place to hold the Government to account and make the Government accountable for its actions.

"Whether that's a part-time government, or a caretaker government as we have now, or whether it's a new government, the Dáil has to meet and that is vitally important."

    The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:
  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

Mr Harris said he agrees the work of the Dáil is of “paramount importance” and needs to be carried out in a “transparent way”.

“No-one in this room is a close contact of me, nor me of you. You might be close contacts of your staff, you’re close contacts of your family.

“We’re all travelling from different households today, beyond our close contacts and coming into contact with each other, with officials, with ushers, with clerks – who don’t have an option in relation to whether they are here or not.

“Their safety and their health is of paramount importance to us.

“And I think this house in sitting here today in this session Ceann Comhairle, and I appreciate the huge work you’ve done in discharging your duties, but this house, sitting in this fashion today, is sending out a message that runs contrary to the public health message – stay at home.”

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