Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue went shopping in Dublin city centre hours ahead of a scheduled Covid-19 test which later came back positive.
Mr McConalogue is self-isolating in Donegal and was not showing symptoms of the virus yesterday after receiving news that he had tested positive – a development which forced all members of the Cabinet to restrict their movements pending test results which were due last night and this morning.
Ministers were told they were not considered close contacts meaning they will be free to go about their business provided they have returned a negative test.
A spokesman for Mr McConalogue said he had followed all public health guidelines after his return from Brussels where he was on Government business last week.
The Donegal TD was spotted on South Anne Street, just off Grafton Street, Dublin, about lunchtime on Tuesday in the queue at Sheridans Cheesemongers.
The Cabinet minister also stopped to talk to Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, with both men wearing masks throughout, on the same street.
He was shopping in the city centre a short time after the Cabinet meeting in Dublin Castle where ministers signed off plans to re-impose Level 5 restrictions in the coming days.
His spokesman said the Fianna Fáil TD had followed the rules for members of the Government who have returned from essential foreign travel.
Mr McConalogue attended a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels last week.
He returned to Ireland on Thursday where he was immediately tested and returned a negative result. Under the protocols for ministers they are tested again five days later.
Mr McConalogue underwent his second scheduled test about 4pm on Tuesday. It returned a positive result yesterday morning.
Citing a Government memo, Mr McConalogue’s spokesman said Irish residents who travel overseas for essential purposes – including Cabinet ministers – and restrict their movements apart from that purpose while overseas, are not advised to restrict their movement on return to Ireland.
“Therefore, he didn’t have to restrict his movements,” the spokesman said.
Asked about the appropriateness of the minister shopping in Dublin on Tuesday afternoon, the spokesman said: “He followed the rules, he followed the guidelines, he was doing his confirmatory test a few days later and he was not required to restrict his movements in that time.
“There is no impropriety here and he was wearing a mask at all times yesterday [Tuesday].”
Mr McConalogue wore a mask throughout the Cabinet meeting which was socially distanced at Dublin Castle and lasted less than two hours.
After the positive test was confirmed, ministers were contacted by an official in the Department of the Taoiseach, and the National Ambulance Service was dispatched to carry out swabbing with the results expected within hours.
Some ministers privately questioned why Mr McConalogue did not appear via video link at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, with one noting that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe did so earlier this month following a foreign trip.
Mr McConalogue’s spokesman said the rules were clear and there was no requirement for ministers to restrict their movements upon return from essential travel abroad.
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