Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture and Food Brian Stanley TD has called for inspections of meat plants to be carried out unannounced.
Covid-19 has been identified as a major issue in meat plants across the country with 865 cases confirmed in at coronavirus clusters in 16 plants in recent weeks. Workers at the plants live in Laois, Offaly, Tipperary and other counties.
Confirming these figures on Friday, May 22 the Department of Health also revealed that 17 workers have been hospitalised with five in Intensive Care.
The issue has come before the Dáil on a number of occasions in recent weeks.
The Laois-Offaly TD was speaking following an exchange in the Dáil on Thursday last where neither the Business or Agriculture Minister could confirm how many meat plant inspections the HSA had carried out.
"In the Dáil last week, I asked how many inspections of meat plants had been carried out by the HSA during Covid-19 and neither the Minister for Business nor the Minister for Agriculture could tell me,” the Deputy said.
"What was worse was the fact that the Minister for Business said several times that she didn't need to know how many inspections had taken place.
"I was then told that this was a confidential matter for the HSA and that it was none of my business.
"This is despite the fact that we're seeing clusters of Covid-19 infections breaking out across the State in meat plants including Laois and Offaly.
"Sinn Féin wants to protect workers, communities and the industry itself and the best way to do that is to ensure that meat plants adhere to the infection control guidelines set out by the HSE.
"There have been over 200 complaints made to the HSA regarding meat plants not sticking to the guidelines and it is bizarre that two Ministers in the Dáil would tell me that they didn't need to know how many inspections had been carried out.
"I would like to welcome the fact that the HSE led outbreak control teams have been established which will be involved in the inspection of meat plants. However, it is important that these inspections are unannounced.
"Management should not be given the heads up before inspections during which time they can direct staff to take lunch breaks etc to ensure social distancing just for that time period.
"It is also important that all meat plants are inspected where clusters have been identified and that no workers returns to work with covid symptoms until they have the all clear.
"Some meat plants are doing very well right now which illustrates that it is possible to continue production and also maintain social distancing. But we need all plants to do this."