Sinn Féin has defended holding physical parliamentary party meetings in recent months, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid repeated warnings from public health officials to limit social contacts and avoid large gatherings, Sinn Féin’s physical meetings are in stark contrast to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which continue to use online platforms to host their weekly gatherings.
While nothing illegal has occurred, there were calls this week from within Fianna Fáil to end its online meetings, citing Sinn Féin’s in-person gathering of TDs and senators.
Sinn Féin has 37 TDs and five senators since its strong performance in the general election in February.
Since the onset of the virus, most large meetings of political parties have moved online to limit the potential spread of the highly contagious virus.
In a statement to the, Sinn Féin confirmed it has held a limited number of its weekly meetings in the Convention Centre in Dublin, where each of the political groupings have assigned rooms.
“Whilst most Sinn Féin parliamentary group meetings have been conducted virtually, we have held a limited number of meetings utilising the facility provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas to effectively practice social distancing,” the party said.
It is worth pointing out, for Fianna Fáil's benefit, that parliamentary party meetings are expressly provided for under Covid-19 regulations, the party said.
In the party rooms, desks for TDs and senators are spaced out 2m apart.
Several Sinn Féin TDs contacted estimated that “one in three” of their meetings have happened physically while the others have been virtual.
“We are spaced out and to be honest, being able to meet in the room is far better than doing it online. It is probably the only plus side to being there as we could not meet like this in Leinster House,” said one TD.
The party insists it has been compliant with Covid-19 regulations in adhering to the 2m social distancing rules.
At this week’s virtual Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting, Cork North-Central TD Pádraig O’Sullivan asked why his party could not physically meet when Sinn Féin, with a similar number of Oireachtas members, is doing so.
Mr O’Sullivan called for a return to physical meetings, citing the ability of Sinn Féin with a similar number of Oireachtas members to make it possible.
The temporary restrictions introduced by the Government earlier this year state that a specified person shall ensure that members of the public are not permitted, or otherwise granted, access to a premises in a relevant geographical location where a relevant business or service is carried on or otherwise provided.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this does not prohibit a meeting of a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties or a meeting of a parliamentary party of such political party,” the act says.