Business of Special Committee

We have been notified that Deputies Rose Conway-Walsh, Ruairí Ó Murchú, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Richard Boyd Barrett, Darren O'Rourke and Bernard Durkan will substitute for their party colleagues today. I will take it that the minutes of the meetings of 16 and 18 September are agreed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Could I take it that eight items of correspondence received are noted?

Could I raise an issue concerning an item of correspondence?

Certainly.

The correspondence is from HIQA. It is SCC/19RR/06. It concerns a question I raised about the engagement between HIQA and the nursing homes from 1 January 2020 to 30 March 2020. The reply states that the attached document provides details of the significant level of engagement between HIQA and the nursing homes but there was no attached document. Perhaps I missed it. I refer to paragraph 5.

We will certainly follow up on that. We will write back asking for the information.

It may have been an error but I would like to see the document.

If there was an attached document we will seek it. Is that the only issue the Deputy wishes to raise regarding correspondence?

Deputy Cullinane wishes to make a point.

We were due to have four sessions of this committee today. Three sessions would have involved hearing from NPHET, the HSE and the Minister for Health.

Despite the fact that we got the clár, the Oireachtas schedule for the week last Friday, we were notified yesterday, 24 hours in advance of this meeting, that neither NPHET, the HSE nor the Minister would be before the committee today. That is unacceptable. The reason given is that they are preparing the winter plan. The winter plan has to be more than a winter plan anyway, but I do not think that taking them away for a couple of hours would have prevented them from completing the plan. It is bad form that they are not here.

We have not had any debate in the Oireachtas yet on the Government's plan that was announced last week. There has been no scrutiny whatsoever. Regulations have been introduced by the Minister for Health that have not been scrutinised. In fact, we are not even getting notification before they go up on the website. That is unacceptable. I know that efforts have been made to reschedule the meetings for next week and some in government asked what difference it would make. That is the same as saying that the Dáil should not sit for one week and sure we will do it next week. We deserve to be treated with respect. The Minister and the HSE should be here today.

I put the HSE on notice that there is anecdotal evidence coming to Deputies from all parties about a delay in the roll-out of the flu vaccine. I do not know the reason for that. I am not even sure if that is the case or what the actual delay involves, but people have been told that by pharmacists and GPs and we need to get the facts.

Could I-----

When the HSE is in next week, that is one of the issues that will be raised. It can give us a comprehensive overview of the situation regarding the flu vaccine. I register my protest at this meeting at the way the committee was treated. We will not sign off on the final report unless we hear from the Minister for Health next week. It has not been confirmed yet that he will be attending, but it needs to be confirmed before the day is out.

I am conscious that we have witnesses waiting to come in. I note the points Deputy Cullinane makes. The HSE has confirmed it will attend and the questions the Deputy raises will be communicated to it. The clerk, Mr. McEnery, is in contact with NPHET and it is hoped that its representatives will be able to confirm they will come in next Tuesday. I have written to the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach with regard to the presence of somebody from the Executive, which ultimately makes the decisions based on recommendations. I cannot do any more at this stage.

I accept that, but what I am saying is that I will not sign off on any final report on behalf of my party unless the Minister for Health is before the committee next week.

That is noted.

I indicated, Chairman.

I apologise. I did not see the Deputy.

It is very clear that nobody will sign off on any report without all the accountable people coming here, including the Minister for Health, NPHET and all the other parties. I wish to place on record that the first ever proposal that was made at this committee was the offer of the Taoiseach-----

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health-----

Could I just make this point, please? The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health offered to come in here and the committee turned it down. Deputy Cullinane's party turned it down. That is why they did not come initially. It is not true to imply that they do not have an interest or that they do not want to be here. It is wrong to use this committee as a political football. It is exceptionally clear that the Government wanted to attend here as the first witnesses and the committee said "No". I am not very happy with-----

I just want to respond.

No. The Deputy can respond very briefly and then we will move on.

The Minister for Health was before this committee and we supported it. The point Deputy O'Dowd raises is that at the very first meeting we felt it was appropriate that we hear from medical scientists and medical professionals and then we would hear from the Minister, which we did. There was never a situation when we did not want to hear from the Minister.

The implication is that he is hiding from the committee when he is not.

It is not. It is stating the obvious.

I thank both of my colleagues. I note the points they have made. We have witnesses who are waiting, who have given up their time to give us their views, and I would like to move on to them. I thank both of my colleagues very much. I have noted their comments.

I would like to come in, Chairman, if I may. I apologise for delaying the meeting as I take my seat. I have to catch my breath. Something quite serious happened yesterday in the Dáil Chamber. In effect, it was alleged that witnesses were refusing to attend this committee. I do not think that is correct. I do not think anybody here in the room believes it is correct. It is very serious. I apologise for being out of breath. I ran over here.

I appreciate that.

It undermines the very strong relationship we have had with witnesses who have come before this committee.

For Deputy McDonald to effectively say that witnesses were refusing to attend is not correct and the Chairman should clarify that.

Before you came in, Deputy McAuliffe, I clarified that the HSE has confirmed that its representatives are coming in next Tuesday. We have not yet received confirmation from the National Public Health Emergency Team but we hope it will confirm that it will come in next Tuesday. With regard to the Executive, I have written to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and I hope one of them will be in a position to come in.

I am less concerned about Ministers. Ministers can look after themselves. However, NPHET has been a highly respected body from the start, and to put a slur on the team to the effect that it is refusing to attend the Covid-19 committee is shocking.

As I said, we have written to it and we hope it will come in next Wednesday, but we are not in a position to confirm that yet. I am keen to talk to the witnesses who are here now.