Hospitals are within their rights to continue to lock loved ones out of maternity appointments, despite the head of the HSE writing to healthcare facilities asking for restrictions to be lifted.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has defended the "barbaric" Covid-19 maternity restrictions and said hospitals do not have to lift the restrictions amid growing confusion and anger at the ad-hoc arrangements which have seen families split apart for milestone moments.
The HSE has admitted it does not know what visitor restrictions are in place in each of the country's maternity hospitals as Covid measures have been left up to individual managers.
Campaigners and opposition politicians have hit out at the "insulting" restrictions which mean expectant fathers and birth partners are being denied access for scans and during labour in some hospitals.
HSE boss Paul Reid intends to contact each of the 19 maternity units across the country asking that restrictions be lifted, however, this decision ultimately remains in the hands of individual hospitals.
Mr Reid said the HSE believes "the conditions are right that restrictions should be lifted".
If maternity hospital managers feel they still cannot comply with this request, Mr Reid said they should communicate the reasons for continuing with restrictions to expectant mothers.
But the HSE has no information on the specific visitor restrictions currently in place at a local level.
"This type of information is not collected centrally within our unit. It would be available at a local level in each individual maternity hospital," general manager of the National Women and Infants Health Programme Mary-Jo Biggs told Labour leader Alan Kelly in response to parliamentary questions.
"The decision to facilitate partners at scans is a decision taken at a hospital level, considering the different circumstances in each location."
Mr Kelly described this approach as "insulting" to pregnant women and their partners and said: "Whether it's a firstborn or second or third baby, you can’t provide comfort to a partner going through labour or going to a big scan from a car park.
"The Government has been leading women and their partners down the garden path when it comes to lifting of restrictions."
He said it is bad enough that the HSE does not know what is happening on the ground, but "even worse is that officials did not go around and ask the maternity services themselves because they could not be bothered. This is barbaric."
Mr Donnelly last night defended the different restrictions being applied by individual hospitals.
"We would love as consistent an approach as possible and as open a national approach as possible. However, it is not being applied uniformly as some maternity hospitals have made a call that they don't believe it's safe for them and I support that and support their local right to make those decisions," Mr Donnelly told the Dáil.
Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, said that women have gone through “enormous trauma” having to attend appointments and scans on their own during the pandemic.
“Women have been contacting the Women's Council about it and they really feel that there's been so many different announcements in relation to things opening up, how restrictions are being removed.
“But there’s no clear indication in terms of how women who are pregnant are going to be supported [and] how the restrictions are going to be lifted in maternity hospitals," she said.
Pregnant women and their partners are sharing their experiences of restrictions on social media, including a tweet which went viral in recent days of Gary Toohey standing outside a hospital in Limerick. It had the caption: "Hours away from having our first child and there I am waving up at herself from outside the hospital on the street, where do you begin."