Simon Harris spent more than two hours in Dáil chamber despite advice it was unsafe to do so

Simon Harris said on May 21, that TDs cannot spend any longer than two hours in the chamber, on public health advice specific to the Oireachtas as a workplace.
Simon Harris spent more than two hours in Dáil chamber despite advice it was unsafe to do so

The Minister for Health spent more than two hours in the Dáil chamber last Wednesday, despite stating advice that it was unsafe to do so.

Simon Harris said on May 21, that TDs cannot spend any longer than two hours in the chamber, on public health advice specific to the Oireachtas as a workplace.

Minister Harris withdrew from a second session of Dáil questions the same day, based on the advice from Professor Martin Cormican of University Hospital Galway, and hours ahead of the first sitting of the special Dáil committee on Covid-19, which he also did not attend.

On Wednesday, May 27, Mr Harris can be seen on video entering the Dáil chamber for a vote on the order of business, sitting down and speaking to the Taoiseach for approximately, 10 minutes and 33 seconds, and was still present in the chamber when the video is suspended.

Later on the same day, taking questions on Covid19, Mr Harris is present in the chamber for another two hours and six minutes and is still present when the video is suspended. A total of over two hours, 16 minutes.

Mr Harris did not avail of another invitation to the Covid Committee yesterday, but said that it was a "ropey interpretation" that he was invited, as he wasn't "formally invited".

The advice Mr Harris' cited, notes that if a person develops Covid-19, anyone who had spent a cumulative period of two hours or more during a 24-hour period in an enclosed space with that person must self isolate for 14 days, which would, in Mr Harris' case, include a number of TDs.

The same day, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar left a question and answers session in the chamber and continued his proceedings through a video link from a committee room after the session passed the two-hour limit.

The day after Mr Harris submitted the advice to the Dáil, the deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “To be absolutely categorical, there is no bar on any meeting lasting greater than two hours.”

He added that meetings lasting more than two hours presented additional risks, but that did not mean they were banned, highlighting that all steps out of lockdown came with risks that employers needed to balance with benefits.

It has emerged Mr Harris went into self-isolation for a number of days last week fearing he had contracted Covid-19.

Test results confirmed Mr Harris did not have the virus and has since returned to work.

Labour leader Alan Kelly says the advice is a "red herring" being used to avoid accountability.

"There is no public health advice that stipulates TDs should only stay in the chamber two out of every 24 hours. Professor Cormican made this clear in his follow up advice," he said.

"So why has Minister Harris and the Government used this red herring to avoid coming into the Dáil? At the end of the day, ministers must be accountable.

"Minister Harris must practice what he preaches.

"If he was that concerned about potentially becoming a possible ‘close contact’ he would not have stayed in the chamber for well beyond his own self imposed two-hour limit. It makes a mockery of his argument and is not very respectful to the Dail."

The Dáil Business Committee has considered a proposal that the current practice of applying a two-hour limit for debates be discontinued and will consult with their parties before considering the matter again on June 9.

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