Minister of State Sean Fleming, who represents the Laois-Offaly constituency, has called on the Carroll meat plant in Tullamore to voluntarily close.
Three of four meat processing plants in the midlands are not reopening today, after recent outbreaks of Covid-19.
150 workers tested positive for the virus at Kildare Chilling, 86 at O'Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe and nine at the Irish Dog Food Factory in Naas.
Carroll Cuisine in Tullamore was open on Monday morning. Nine staff members had previously tested positive for Covid-19.
The company said 200-plus employees were tested for the virus on Sunday and the situation had not escalated. It said a deep clean was also being carried out.
“I am calling on them to close, to show solidarity with the local community,” Mr Fleming told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show.
“I expect that before this day is out that this factory will close. Three out of the four have done the right thing.”
Mr Fleming said that if the Carroll meat plant “doesn’t do the right thing” then the State will have to take action.
If all four factories at which there were outbreaks of Covid-19 in recent days were closed down it would be “a big boost” to public confidence, he added.
He was encouraging the Carroll meat plant to close down voluntarily so that the State would not have to do so.
“They should do the right thing.”
It was important to remember that the counties of Laois, Offaly and Kildare were not in lockdown, he said. People can still go to the shops, they can still go to work, even outside the three county area.
The onus was on management in the meat companies to ensure that they have a safe work environment for their staff. Mr Fleming called for “rolling” testing in meat plants as had been done in nursing homes.
Keeping community transmission down was vital, he warned, as the State was facing into the “single biggest logistical exercise” in the coming weeks with the reopening of schools. “We have to be very vigilant.”
On the same programme Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said that any factory that was a source of an outbreak should be closed. It was odd for a Minister of State to call on a factory to voluntarily close down “over the airwaves” he said.
There had to be an onus on companies to comply with regulations, but they could not operate under self assessment, he said.
“If any company cannot operate within the guidelines then it should close.”
Mr Cullinane said he had figures from the HSA that showed there were 570 inspectors who carried out 230 inspections in July which worked out at one inspection for every two inspectors.
“That’s not enough.”
Meanwhile, Siptu says it is not optimistic ahead of a meeting with Meat Industry Ireland to discuss Covid-19 outbreaks in factories.
“We now have over 10% of workers infected by Covid. Nine out 10 do not have a sick pay scheme,” said Greg Ennis, of Siptu.
“And we’ve heard horror stories of workers living in cramped conditions in the Midlands, sharing accommodation and that is the perfect storm for Covid transmission.
“So it behoves Meat Industry Ireland and the Government to ramp up their approach to this.”
Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expressed regret at the issue of blame for the spread of Covid-19 which he says is “creeping” into Irish society.
People are blaming American tourists, young people and migrant workers he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Mr Varadkar pointed out that 100 workers in meat plants had died in the US.
Fortunately that had not been the case in Ireland, he said.
This was a continuing problem and there was a need to get back to basics and to contain the amount of Covid-19 cases in the community.
Mr Varadkar also pointed out that under public health legislation the Health Service Executive (HSE) has the power to order the closure of Carroll's Cuisine in Tullamore.
An ‘outbreak’ team is working at present to assess measures necessary at the Carroll plant which remains open while three other factories in the Kildare, Loais and Offaly closed following the discovery of clusters.