Tráthnóna inné, dhearbhaigh Feidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte do mo chomhghleacaí as Tiobraid Árann, an Teachta Martin Browne, go raibh stad láithreach curtha le scrúdaithe do Covid-19 sna monarchana feola. Sílim go bhfuil sé seo dochreidte, gan chiall agus gearr-radharcach. Tá a fhios againn gurbh iad na clusters sna monarchana seo an cúis ba mhó leis na srianta a cuireadh i bhfeidhm i gcontaetha Chill Dara, Laoise agus Uíbh Fhailí an mhí seo caite.
Yesterday evening, the HSE confirmed to my colleague from Tipperary, an Teachta Martin Browne, that testing for Covid-19 in meat factories had been halted since Tuesday. That is incredibly reckless. It is a short-sighted move that needs to be rectified. Meat factories have been the sites of numerous clusters of infection and were one of the main reasons for the regional lockdowns in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly a few weeks ago. We all know the difficulties that the lockdown caused for businesses, communities and residents of those counties.
There are currently at least four clusters associated with meat factories around the State. Last week, two workers in meat processing plants in Tipperary tested positive for Covid-19. Mass testing of all workers was set to begin yesterday, but instead workers at the factory received a text message informing them that the HSE had ceased Covid-19 testing with immediate effect. No other private industry has had more of an impact on Covid-19 cases than the meat and food processing sector. That is without doubt. Meat factory workers are particularly vulnerable due to the poor working conditions in those factories. Outbreaks in factories lead to increased transmission and risk in the communities where these factories are located and these workers live. That is an obvious fact.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, was on the radio yesterday morning, announcing that serial testing in meat plants had commenced and that the first round would be completed by the end of the week. We now know that these tests had already been cancelled. You could not make this up.
It is more baffling that the Minister for Health answered questions in the Dáil yesterday evening and did not mention this issue even though Deputy Carthy raised the issue of the meat plants with him directly. It would be helpful if the Tánaiste could clear this up for us. Who made this decision? Will the Tánaiste tell us whether the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was aware of this decision when it was made on Tuesday? Was the Minister for Health aware of it? Did he know about it before he spoke in the Dáil yesterday?
We are told, time and again, that there is capacity for 100,000 tests per week. We know that we are not using all of that capacity, so why was this decision taken? That is the real issue at the heart of all of this. The lack of testing is a major problem and getting it right is critical for how we all deal with Covid-19. The Tánaiste knows that the Government has a responsibility to protect the health of communities when it comes to meat plants and these communities and workers deserve better.
Can the Tánaiste answer some simple questions? When was the decision taken? Were the two Ministers aware of the decision? Given that we are not using the full capacity that is available, if capacity for 100,000 tests per week is indeed available, why was a decision taken to not test meat plant workers as scheduled?