Oireachtas staff ‘concerned’ about lack of masks in workplace

Two unions write to Ceann Comhairle raising issue of ‘business as usual’ attitude

Staff in the Oireachtas are concerned at a “lack of compliance” with mask wearing in the workplace, as well as a “business as usual” attitude in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to trade unions.

Derek Mullen, national secretary of the Fórsa Civil Service Division, and Ciaran Rohan, general secretary of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS), wrote to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail raising concerns on Monday.

In their letter, they call on Mr Ó Fearghail to restrict activity at Leinster House to “essential parliamentary business only”.

“While we welcome your efforts to limit activity within the houses, we are also aware that there have been many obstacles to your endeavours,” they said.


“We are very concerned that the adherence to the scaled back measures has already slipped and it is alarming that sitting times have now increased, also noting that the Seanad will reconvene and that committee meetings are to recommence next Friday.

“So instead of one sitting day with a maximum of six hours it now looks like two sitting days with a total of 16 hours.

“It would appear that it is business as usual within the Houses of the Oireachtas which given the gravity of the public health emergency is simply unacceptable.”

Mr Mullen and Mr Rohan said increased sitting times and committees re-starting “inevitably” will require more staff in the workplace, something neither union supports.

“Both unions are seeking improved organisation of business, reduced activity levels in line with public health advice, reduced footfall in LH2000 and in the Convention Centre, in conjunction with a maximisation of remote participation and working from home,” they said.

Lack of compliance

“In addition, staff in the Oireachtas are concerned at a lack of compliance with mask wearing in the Oireachtas workplace. We would ask that the wearing of masks within the workplace be made mandatory.

“Given the circumstances we are requesting a meeting (on the relevant virtual platform) at your earliest convenience regarding these urgent matters.”

Peter Finnegan, clerk of the Dáil, wrote back to both unions on Tuesday to say that the safety of everyone in the parliamentary community is the “absolute priority”.

“The service continually reviews the list of staff who are required on-site to meet the service requirements particularly during the current Level 5 restrictions to ensure the absolute minimum number required and where possible that these staff are rotated,” he said.

“The sittings of the Dáil are scheduled by the Business Committee who have agreed to significant reductions in the schedule so that only essential business is conducted during this Level 5 period.”

Mr Finnegan said staff “will have benefitted from the decisions taken recently which reduced the requirements for attendance over the Christmas, New Year and the first week of sitting”.


On the issue of masks, he said: “The service respond to issues or queries raised by members in relation to compliance or other safety measures that could be considered. One such measure is the reinforcement of the wearing of face coverings in the Oireachtas complex.

“There are currently no regulatory provisions for the mandatory wearing of face coverings that would apply to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

“The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidance and FAQs do not make wearing a face covering a mandatory requirement.

“The Houses of the Oireachtas has introduced a Covid 19 Code of Conduct with an accompanying updated face covering policy to remind everyone of the behavioural standards required to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter