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McConalogue under fire over ‘hush-hush’ policy on Covid outbreaks at meat plants

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Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue came under fire in the last week over what was described as a hush-hush policy in relation to Covid-19 outbreaks in the Meat Processing Sector.

It comes after a number of large outbreaks at plants in Cork and Waterford in recent weeks.

Cork-based Senator Tim Lombard hit out at the lack of information provided to the local community in Bandon after a significant recent outbreak of Covid-19 at an ABP meat plant.

Speaking at a hearing of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee he said leaving it up to the meat plants to decide to inform communities about the situation is not good enough.

"The community of Bandon only heard that nearly 70 workers at a local plant were diagnosed as having Covid... through a leak to the media,” he said.

"We need to work on protocols because they are not there at the moment and it is literally left to how one particular plant or organisation wants to deal with the matter. We need to have some direction in order that information is given to communities in the event of an outbreak.”

Minster McConalogue said there continues to be intensive and ongoing engagement between his Department and the meat factories on the issue.

However, he said as with wider society in recent weeks, there have been particular challenges for all in respect of infection rates and the increased challenge of trying to ensure that the significant infection rates do not impact upon employees.

"The serial testing is continuing," the Minister assured committee members.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Browne said he would "take the Minister at his word that testing is ongoing”, but asked why there is so much secrecy.

"Workers in these plants have contacted us with concern about their working conditions and members of the public in the area ask us questions continually.

"It seems we have gone back to the very start, whereby everything is kept hush-hush," he said.

The Minister responded by highlighting the same protocols apply to meat factories as apply to any other business or location where outbreaks occur.

"In terms of communication, there are protocols for staff to self-isolate and take precautions. The difference with meat factories is that we have ongoing serial testing as an additional aid to oversee infection rates and to work with the factories to ensure they are minimised.

"They have gone to very significant lengths to put in place protocols to ensure their staff are kept safe and it is paramount that this continues in the time ahead," he said.

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