Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there should be no restrictions on partners attending maternity services, despite several hospitals refusing access.
It comes following a series of protests that have taken place outside maternity hospitals across the country demanding better services for women.
In the Dáil, Labour leader Alan Kelly pointed out that husbands and partners can go to Penneys this week but they cannot attend maternity services.
He pointed out the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said there is no good reason for maternity hospitals to restrict visits from partners.
“When will we have consistency across the board in all maternity services, with partners and husbands being allowed in at critical moments, as well as for the birth?” he asked.
In response, Mr Martin said: “I agree 100% that there is no need for these restrictions now at all. I said that last week in this House.
“The Chief Medical Officer has said that, given the success of the vaccination programme, particularly within healthcare settings, the suppression of the virus among front-line healthcare workers and the high level of vaccination across the country, women's partners should be with them, with proper precautions,” he said.
Mr Kelly asked: “Then why is it not happening?”
The Taoiseach said he will engage again with the HSE.
“I have already spoken to the CEO of the HSE about telling both the national clinical directors and clinical directors across all hospitals to facilitate such access,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS) staged a series of protests today at Holles Street and the Coombe in Dublin, as well as hospitals in Donegal and Louth.
The group says they have taken action not just in protest at Covid restrictions that exclude partners from attending hospital with expectant mothers, but at the standard of maternity services in the country generally.
Despite a HSE circular calling on hospitals to facilitate partners to attend visits, in many instances restrictions are being kept in place at local level.
AIMS spokesperson Krysia Lynch said: “It’s 15 months on. I can go to Penneys tomorrow. I can go and book a facial in Arnotts.
“But I can’t take my partner with me for an induction that might take 48 hours. Which means I’m going to be left alone.
“The fabulous midwives who have enough work to do can never give me the attention that my partner would give me.
“We know that the induction rate in Ireland is about 38%. We know that so many people are going through early labour, which is worrying and frightening. And they’re doing it on their own.”
Ms Lynch said that she has been inundated with calls from parents unable to attend hospitals with their partners who have been “traumatised” by the situation.
Dr Gosia Stack protested outside Holles Street on Tuesday.
She said the problems with maternity services in Ireland go well beyond the pandemic restrictions.
“I’m here today because maternity care services have been forgotten by the Government for decades,” she told the PA news agency.
“We have a national maternity strategy and the funding for it was cut. We were promised to have midwifery-led units – none were built since the strategy was announced.
“It feels like we are just forgetting women and the needs that they have in childbirth. We have a huge dissatisfaction with maternity services.”
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the advice to maternity hospitals is that access for partners should be expanded, but local considerations, such as where there are Covid outbreaks, must also be considered.
He said: “I think the HSE probably has the balance right, in terms of reiterating the fact that there does need to be broad access, but acknowledging that there are local considerations.
“We do need, if there are local conditions, we really do feel it is necessary for time-limited period because of local considerations. That’s something I think we need to we need to respect.”
Mr Donnelly said hospitals which depart from the HSE circular must inform the health board in writing, outlining their reasons for doing so.
However, he said there would be no intervention by the Department of Health in cases where hospitals depart from the advice.
“Certainly the Department of Health would not be getting involved in local clinical decisions in terms of infection prevention and control.
“They are operational matter for the HSE. But as the HSE have said themselves, the expectation is that visitation occurs.
“If by exception a local unit deems it unsafe for a time limited period, they can then submit that. Obviously that can be reviewed by the HSE centrally.
“There would be an ongoing consideration there. But generally these things would happen by collaboration.”