‘Draconian’: TDs from across Midlands shocked and angered over lockdown

TDs criticise delayed response of State agencies to ‘obvious’ meat plant risks

Former minster for justice Charlie Flanagan and current Laois TD says State aid needs to follow any restrictions. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Former minster for justice Charlie Flanagan and current Laois TD says State aid needs to follow any restrictions. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Political representatives in the three counties affected by a two week lockdown have responded with a mixture of shock and anger at the decision.

Dáil deputies representing Kildare, Laois and Offaly from across the political spectrum have called for emergency funding for businesses impacted and have been highly critical of the delayed response of State agencies to the “obvious” risks of outbreaks in meat processing plants and direct provision centres.

Residents of Kildare, Laois and Offaly face limits on their movement for two weeks as part of a series of new restrictions in these areas in a bid to control a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases in the region.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said cafes, restaurants and pubs will close from midnight tonight for two weeks as well as cinemas, theatres and museums. There will be no sporting events or matches. Gyms will also close.

There are now 289 cases of coronavirus in the three counties with many cases linked to food processing plants in the region.

Laois

Laois Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said that there were obvious warning signs of clusters in meat plants and direct provision centres, yet little had been doing.

He pointed out there had been no unannounced inspections by the Health and Safety Authority in meat processing facilities and an absence of testing.

He said the lockdown would be “devastating” for the hotel and hospitality sector in the region. He said there was now a case for a relief or emergency fund as the new restrictions would cause a deep economic shock.

The Fine Gael deputy for Laois, Charlie Flanagan, said he would sum up the measures in one word: “Draconian”.

Mr Flanagan said. “Business in the area has been struggling to recover in recent weeks and has now been set back considerably.

“Families with children who opted to holiday at home this year, were preparing for holidays at the seaside and are in shock.”

He was also critical of the seemingly slow reaction of authorities to an emerging problem.

“The issue of meat factories has been flagged for weeks. Testing meat factory workers should have been ramped up weeks ago.

“We now have a localised lockdown which is going to be impossible to implement and has caused widespread dissatisfaction throughout the Midlands, an area already reeling from the economic shock waves of Bord na Móna. State aid needs to follow any restrictions,” he said.

Offaly

The Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly, Barry Cowen, said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was not there to inconvenience people and while the measures would be very difficult, there were too many vulnerable people in the community.

“The reality is if you don’t intercept the community spread it would lead (to) us chasing the virus, which would be worse. We have to protect the vulnerable, that’s the over-riding priority.

“It is very hard on many people who have gone out of their way to get their business back up and running but, unfortunately, it’s necessary,” he said.

Kildare

The Independent deputy for Kildare South, Cathal Berry, said there was a need to ramp up community testing for members of the public at the testing centres in Newbridge, Emo, Tullamore and Naas. He also said ambulances should be made available to facilitate home testing. The third thing that was needed was for public health specialists to target meat plants properly in the same way as they had done with the nursing homes.

“It’s hugely disappointing for people and a major inconvenience,” he said.

However, he said the reality was people had endured more severe restrictions earlier this year. He added that it was not as severe as the lockdowns in Melbourne in Australia or in Aberdeen in Scotland.

Mr Berry said he believed the three counties were the first of a number of regions who would suffer the same fate over coming months.

“It is the first example we have seen of a regional type containment strategy in Ireland,” he said.

Réada Cronin of Sinn Féin (Kildare North) said she was extremely disappointed and shocked at the announcement, especially as many of the problems could have been foreseen.

“We could have seen this coming a few weeks ago. This has exposed the fault lines in our society

“All the small business getting back on their feet in north Kildare will have to carry the can. My phone has hardly been on the hook since the announcement. Small business owners are angry.”She said she was calling on the Government to give financial support in the form of grants to small businesses that will be affected.

“I’m also calling on them to step up testing in direct provision centres, homeless shelters and meat factories,” she said.