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Holohan happy to attend Oireachtas committee, as long as it’s safe

The chief medical officer said senior health figures taking part in the evidence session should be seen to be complying with health guidance.

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(Brian Lawless/PA)

(Brian Lawless/PA)

(Brian Lawless/PA)

Ireland’s chief medical officer has insisted he would not be going to the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 if he did not think it would be safe.

Dr Tony Holohan also confirmed that a scheduled meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team has been cancelled due to Tuesday’s committee hearing.

His comments came amid concerns over the format of the lengthy hearings.

Dr Holohan, Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin and HSE chief executive Paul Reid will face questions over two two-hour sessions, separated by a 15-minute break.

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Tony Holohan said it was important that public health guidance was complied with during the hearings (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Tony Holohan said it was important that public health guidance was complied with during the hearings (Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Tony Holohan said it was important that public health guidance was complied with during the hearings (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Former HSE director general Tony O’Brien is among those who have voiced concern.

Under public health guidance people attending indoor meetings for more than two hours are considered close contacts.

Mr O’Brien has warned of the consequences for the state’s coronavirus response if three senior public health figures were potentially exposed to an infection risk or had to self-isolate.

The committee chairman, independent TD Michael McNamara, has insisted social distancing guidelines will be complied with and has highlighted witnesses will be able to give evidence to the hearing in the Dail chamber by video link from one of the Oireachtas’s committee rooms.

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Tony O’Brien has raised concerns about the committee hearing (Niall Carson/PA)

Tony O’Brien has raised concerns about the committee hearing (Niall Carson/PA)

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Tony O’Brien has raised concerns about the committee hearing (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr Holohan said he was happy to attend the meeting and help the committee’s important role in examining the Covid-19 response.

But he said it was important that the format complied with public health guidance. He highlighted that a risk assessment was required for meetings that went over two hours, explaining that having a break in between was not a way around that issue.

The CMO said his department had been liaising with Oireachtas officials to ensure the meeting was compliant with guidance.

“Obviously given the positions and the roles that we hold we have to be seen to uphold our own public health advice,” he told the daily Covid-19 briefing.

Asked if he would attend a meeting he did not consider to be safe, he said: “Of course I wouldn’t go if I didn’t think it was safe.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

He added: “We won’t be involved in a meeting that’s not in keeping with the public health advice.”

Dr Holohan indicated that a format could be found to comply with guidance, insisting there was “no doubt” that he would be attending.

“This is part of work we have to do, we’re public servants, we’ve been invited to attend the Oireachtas committee, and we’re very happy to attend and to help the committee with the important work that it’s going to have over the course of the next period in overseeing, on behalf of Oireachtas, on behalf of the people, the response to this,” he said.

“We have no difficulty at all in attending and doing our best to help the committee with their work.”

PA