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Health Minister ‘uneasy’ about Dail session when public told to stay at home

Simon Harris said the work of the parliament should now be conducted remotely.

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Health Minister Simon Harris said the Dail should now be sitting remotely (PA)

Health Minister Simon Harris said the Dail should now be sitting remotely (PA)

Health Minister Simon Harris said the Dail should now be sitting remotely (PA)

Ireland’s Health Minister has criticised the decision to hold a sitting of the Dail parliament to discuss coronavirus, claiming it had put public health at risk.

Simon Harris said holding the session in Leinster House in Dublin ran contrary to the advice the Government is trying to drive home to people – to stay at home.

Mr Harris said there is no reason the Dail cannot meet remotely using digital technology, and he noted that is how the European Parliament is currently conducting business.

He told TDs: “Days we don’t lead by example are days we should regret.”

Amid calls to postpone the session, the Dail’s business committee met ahead of the start of proceedings and decided to go ahead as planned.

I am deeply uneasy from a public health point of view that we are meeting in this session todaySimon Harris, Health Minister

Committee members agreed to adjourn further sittings until the middle of April – a move subsequently agreed by the Dail.

Social distancing measures were in place inside the chamber as a limited number of TDs met to make statements on the Covid-19 emergency on Thursday afternoon.

At the outset, several opposition TDs stressed the importance of the parliament still sitting during the crisis, highlighting the need to scrutinise Government decisions.

Mr Harris said he agrees the work of the Dail is of “paramount importance” and needs to be carried out in a “transparent way”.

But he added: “I am deeply uneasy from a public health point of view that we are meeting in this session today.

“That does not mean that the Dail can’t meet – the European Parliament has met digitally virtually for quite a number of weeks.

“So I’m sure it’s not beyond us with a little bit of ingenuity and a little bit of innovation to do what workplaces all across the country are doing, but be clear – we are risking public health by being here today.

“No-one in this room is a close contact of me, nor me of you. You might be close contacts of your staff, you’re close contacts of your family.

“We’re all travelling from different households today, beyond our close contacts and coming into contact with each other, with officials, with ushers, with clerks – who don’t have an option in relation to whether they are here or not.

“Their safety and their health is of paramount importance to us.

“And I think this house in sitting here today in this session Ceann Comhairle (speaker Sean O Fearghail), and I appreciate the huge work you’ve done in discharging your duties, but this house, sitting in this fashion today, is sending out a message that runs contrary to the public health message – stay at home.”

PA