The Government is facing increasing calls to answer why schools were kept open after it was known defective and potentially dangerous hand sanitisers were in circulation among students.
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesman, has written to the chair of the Oireachtas Education Committee to ask him to convene a meeting next week with Norma Foley, the Minister for Education so that she can be questioned on the matter.
Virapro hand sanitiser has been withdrawn from the Irish market over public health fears after it was found to contain methanol, an ingredient believed to be toxic when included in such products.
With prolonged use, Virapro is believed to potentially lead to dermatitis, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation, and headaches, according to the Department of Agriculture.
As first reported by the, Virapro was distributed to schools here as it was one of 11 suppliers available, as well as widely throughout the health care system by the HSE.
Preliminary tests carried out by the Department of Agriculture two weeks before schools and the HSE were informed directly about the issues indicated the hand sanitiser did not meet compliance standards.
On October 16, further tests showed that the products did not meet the standards for approval.
Schools were informed of the issue with the santiser late on Thursday night, with some affected schools forced to close early as a result on Friday.
The Department of Education confirmed it knew that a range of hand sanitisers being used in schools had been recalled due to public health fears on Tuesday, two days before it alerted schools.
However, the department said it had only been alerted by phone, not formally, by the Department of Agriculture about issues with the sanitiser.
"The Education Procurement Service sought an update on Wednesday and it was indicated that formal notification would be provided as soon as possible," it said.
A full review of all hand sanitisers and biocidal products currently in use in schools has also since been initiated, with schools directed to cease using all Virapro products.
In the Dáil on Friday night, Charlie McConalogue, the Minister for Agriculture, confirmed his department was first notified of potential concerns with Virapro in September.
On October 20, Virapro was instructed to recall all remaining products under its name from the market.
As the company had not initiated a recall by October 22, the department issued a statement warning the public to cease using the products, he added.
“I was informed of the situation [on Thursday, October 22] for the first time having reviewed the matter [on Friday, October 23].” More questions were raised than answered by the Minister’s statements, according to Matt Carthy, Sinn Fein agriculture spokesman.
“Why, when there was concrete evidence last week that this product was dangerous, was this information not immediately acted upon?”
Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Fein education spokesman, said: “Schools remained open and using Virapro over the course of those two days. There is no acceptable reason for this.
"Parents and schools should have been told immediately. It is outrageous that it took them until late Thursday night to do so.”