*Clare TD, Michael McNamara. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) has accused successive Governments of bowing down to beef barons throughout the country.
Earlier this week, there was widespread shock when it was confirmed that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) had not carried out a single inspection at meat processing plants. The Health Service Executive (HSE) have visited certain plants.
On Friday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn confirmed there had been an increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in meat processing plants with the figure jumping to 865. 16 facilities had reported an outbreak he said with 17 workers hospitalised and 5 admitted to ICU.
A report is to be filed to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) by a special National Outbreak Team. It is to influence authorities on how to best to manage issues facing the meat sector in the weeks ahead.
Speaking in Dáil Éireann, Deputy McNamara remarked that it came as a big surprise to many that no visits were made to meat factories by the HSA and that meat factory bosses were given test results before the individuals whose sample was tested. “However, none of these factors will come as a surprise to the ordinary farmers of Ireland, who are well aware of the clout of meat factories and the beef barons in this State. I am not suggesting that the Minister’s Government is the first to have genuflected before the altar of the beef barons; it is just the latest Government to do so.
“There is a long history of tribunals and abuses of power by that sector. That will continue for a long period. This is simply emblematic of it. We have regulations in place. We have strict separation of church and State in this country. People are free to engage in public worship. Public health is not a reason to confine that or limit it under the Constitution, yet we do so. We say that a person can go to the funeral of a friend only if no one else is going. How a person is supposed to know who else is going to a funeral before going himself, I do not know. It seems a slightly unusual regulation, but that is what we do. We have even closed the churches but we certainly will not interfere with the power of the beef barons in this State,” McNamara stated.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys (FG) responded, “The HSA has full powers to go into any place of work and carry out inspections. With the Covid-19 issue, the authority wants to work with employers and employees to resolve complaints if they exist. Every complaint receives attention”.
She acknowledged that COVID-19 “has changed everything, including the way in which workers have had to change their processes” to which McNamara commented, “The HSA have done nothing”.
Humphreys outlined, “If there is an outbreak in any meat plant, the first port of call is the HSE. The HSA does not go into a plant in that scenario”. She said 240 inspections have been carried out by the HSA and that they had received over 3,300 complaints since March 1st, more than 200 of which were related to COVID-19. “No one can tell the HSA to undertake an inspection. There is an assessment and a process and every complaint is examined on its own merits. If an inspection is necessary, that is a decision for the HSA”.
“We are at somewhat of a disadvantage as these are health-related matters. They are more appropriate for the Minister for Health. My understanding is the individual is notified. I do not intend to add anything further to what has been said about who is notified, but it is usually the individual who is notified and who must take responsibility thereafter. The employer is not routinely notified,” Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed (FG) added.