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Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) is confident the new Dáil COVID-19 committee will hold high ranking health officials to account.

On Tuesday, the Scariff barrister was elected as Chair of the new COVID-19 committee. Waterford TD, David Cullinane (SF) was also in the running for the post but failed to receive the necessary backing in the Chamber. McNamara was nominated by Ossian Smyth (Greens).

Comprised of 19 TDs, four each from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, with one seat each for other parties and Independent groups, the committee is tasked with questioning the Taoiseach, Ministers and officials about COVID-19 and the State’s response. It will be the only Oireachtas committee to sit during the pandemic.

Already Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan and CEO of the HSE, Paul Reid have been invited to appear before the committee next Tuesday.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Deputy McNamara stated that he expected both Holohan and Reid to attend unless they had a prior engagement already in place. “With positions like that comes a duty to be held to account, certainly Tony Holohan was before committees several times in the past, Paul Reid is a relatively recent appointment to the HSE. I would expect he would have been before committees and is well used to be held to account from his previous position with Fingal County Council. I would hope they would come before the committee”.

Of the work to be undertaken by the committee, the Clare TD outlined, “It is going to be probing, we need to go behind the surface. We will be probing, fishing around for blame is not necessarily a good thing but we do need to be probing, if we’re to open up the economy and ease restrictions, there are a lot of good health reasons without ever opening up the economy but if we’re to ease restrictions we do need to have considerable testing capacity in place and contact tracing capacity. We do need to figure out where that is right now so we can begin to ease restrictions safely”.

Easing of restrictions will be a focus but will not be the sole topic. “Members will also want to shine a light on the whole institutions, nursing homes, direct provision centres, mental health institutions to see what protections are in place and to ensure adequate protections are now in place. The present and the future are to me more important than the past, undoubtedly there will be a certain call to look at what went on in the recent past as well”.

Securing clean and accurate information from officials is the aim of the committee, McNamara said to ensure the public are better informed than at present. “I think if we can get clear and accurate information to people so that they feel better informed as to what is exactly is happening in the country would be one of the successes and maybe if we can shine a light on deficiencies, there is a lot of talk that people didn’t think of nursing homes whether that is true or not I’ve no idea but there is nothing like people asking questions to figure out weaknesses”.

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