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Hand sanitiser should have been taken out of use a week ago - minister

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School emergency: Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, Dublin, learnt of the potentially dangerous sanitisers on social media. Picture: Fergal Phillips

School emergency: Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, Dublin, learnt of the potentially dangerous sanitisers on social media. Picture: Fergal Phillips

School emergency: Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, Dublin, learnt of the potentially dangerous sanitisers on social media. Picture: Fergal Phillips

A public warning and withdrawal notice about a useless and potentially dangerous hand sanitiser should have been issued a week ago, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has admitted.

He said he has ordered an urgent review over his department's handling of the information since October 16, adding that he himself had only been informed on Thursday night. Meanwhile, the State has known for a month the stock of hand sanitiser sent here had failed tests in Denmark, he revealed.

Mr McConalogue addressed the Dáil briefly on the matter last night but questions about gaps in communication about the need to remove the sanitiser remain unanswered.

At the centre of the controversy is a ViraPro hand sanitiser which has been recalled.

The Department of Education sent a message to schools late on Thursday night that it should not be used, forcing some to close yesterday.

The Department of Agriculture withdrew approval for the product on Tuesday but that was not formally communicated to the Department of Education or the HSE until Thursday.

The sanitiser was on the public procurement lists for both schools and healthcare settings. The initial recall concerned a ViraPro gel with the code PCS 100409, but the Department of Agriculture has now advised that all ViraPro products should be removed from use. ViraPro products are also on general sale.

Some of the product contains methanol rather than ethanol and prolonged use may cause dermatitis, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation and headaches.

Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick's NS, Drumcondra, Dublin, said she only learned about it on social media on Thursday night. That triggered a late-night scramble to decide what to do and to contact ­parents of their 500 pupils.

Professor Anne Looney, Dean of Education at Dublin City University (DCU) Institute of Education, who is chair of the board of management, said in her efforts to identify an alternative source of sanitisers: "I found myself googling opening times in the local Woodies."

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Ultimately they decided to close and Prof Looney said: "If we had known at 6pm-7pm, we might have been able to keep the school open."

Schools that closed do not have to make up the day. Schools will also be provided with funding for an aide for two days to assist with dealing with these issues.

Mr McConalogue told the Dáil that Olaf, the European anti-fraud agency, notified the Revenue Commissioners that ViraPro imports from Turkey contained an excess amount of methanol.

Revenue notified his department on September 25 and arrangements were made to test the consignment and "a number of other containers already imported into Ireland from the same supplier".

He admitted it would have been "appropriate" for the Government to have issued a public notice about the useless and "potentially dangerous" hand sanitiser when lab tests at the department's own facility at Backweston had confirmed contamination with methanol in consignments in Ireland a week ago.

He said ViraPro had now been removed from the approved products register, having been certified for use in Ireland on April 21.


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