SF claim of ‘meat barons’ hold over Government parties a ‘paranoid fantasy’

Dáil told of workers being bussed to meat factory with Covid clusters in packed coach

Deputy Pearse Doherty (SF) said there had been 44 clusters in meat plants with at least 1,600 cases of Covid-19.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has dismissed as "paranoid fantasy" claims by Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that "meat barons" have a hold over Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Mr Doherty said processing plants were not being closed despite outbreaks of large clusters of coronavirus cases.

The Tánaiste insisted however that “if a plant needs to close, it should close, and there is no message, directive, policy or anything from Government saying to our public officials or to the HSA that plants should not be closed if they need to be.”

Mr Doherty said there had been 44 clusters in meat plants with at least 1,600 cases of Covid-19.


The Donegal TD said there were 266 cases in a factory in Cork in July but it never closed down and details were revealed on Wednesday of at least 28 cases in a plant in Waterford with more tests expected. The situation had been going on for weeks.

He added that workers were being bussed to the plant in a packed 50-seater coach even as testing was ongoing. “Every seat was full, standing room only and people standing in the aisles.”

During Dáil leaders’ questions Mr Doherty said “the meat barons are playing with people’s lives in the interests of profit, plain and simple, and they are getting away with it”.

He contrasted the treatment of plants with 6,800 inspections of pubs over one weekend, even though only five clusters were associated with pubs while outbreaks in meat plants have accounted for one third of all workplace clusters.

He asked why other businesses were being closed while meat factories stayed open.

And he asked what hold did the “meat barons have over Fine Gael and Fianna Fail”.

The Tánaiste said he did not have any details about the clusters or how staff got to work but would make inquiries.


He said, however, that Mr Doherty can “ spin out as many conspiracy theories as as you like” or “paranoid fantasy” but “the message is very clear”.

“If public health officials or the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, recommend, or order, a business to close, then it should close.

He added: “ I guarantee that there is no message, nudge, direction or policy from Government to say to any public health official that he or she should treat meat factories with kid gloves. That is just a paranoid fantasy.”

Mr Varadkar stressed that “the Government supports any decision to close a business, meat plant, school or anything else if that is the right thing to do in public health terms”.

Mr Doherty said the HSE should publish details of such clusters because the public should not have to rely on “rumour mills” and communities deserved transparency.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that there should be clarity and transparency but said most clusters were in homes and it would not appropriate to identify such cases for privacy reasons.

The Tánaiste added that Ireland was carrying out more Covid-19 tests than Germany,New Zealand and Sweden.

Later he said that Ireland will be “one of the first movers in Europe” if the Government increases restrictions in Dublin because of the rise in Covid-19 cases.

He told Independent TD Cathal Berry in the Dáil that the State would be ahead of other cities across the EU in moving to deal with the "concerning" rises in cases across the State, but particularly in Dublin.

“We would be first movers and quick actors rather than what others would suggest.”

Mr Varadkar also said other European cities including Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague and Paris have much higher rates of the virus.

“If we choose to act in the next couple of days, we would be one of the first in Europe to impose the kind of restrictions we may need to impost in Dublin.”

He added that if local restrictions are imposed on different counties in the coming months they will get the same financial supports in lockdown as Laois, Offaly and Kildare.

Dr Berry, TD for Kildare South, said counties Laois Offaly and Kildare were disproportionately affected when they went into lockdown because of “State agency failings in relation to the monitoring of meat plants and direct provision centres”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times