Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said he believes the “double standards” in the meat industry are “not acceptable”.

Speaking at the meeting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response in Leinster House this afternoon, Friday, July 10, representatives of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said that none of the Covid-19 compliance inspections were carried out “unannounced” by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

Unannounced inspections a ‘phenomenal revelation’

Deputy Carthy described this as a “phenomenal revelation”.

We know it [HSA] was late in terms of carrying out inspections and to hear it hasn’t actually carried out any unannounced is a phenomenal revelation.

“I note in AgriLand in the last short while there has been a story that says the HSA is to begin a farm inspection ‘blitz’ from Monday.

“I think it just sets out the double standards that are applying in relation to all these matters and I don’t believe this is acceptable.”

Representatives of MII said that the manner in which the HSA carries out its inspections is to its discretion.

In response to concerns over these inspections, chairman of MII Philip Carroll said:

“The HSA site inspections are done on the basis of advance notice. This was the decision of the HSA and was under no circumstance influenced by MII – there was no pressure put on the HSA.

“In attempting to comply overall with protocols, they [inspectors] didn’t want and didn’t feel it appropriate to arrive at a site where there was a potential Covid spread. In essence, they decided it was better to notify plants that they were coming, rather than appear on the doorstep.

“As far as we are concerned, it is entirely a matter for the HSA whether they come around with an unannounced inspection or an announced inspection. It’s entirely irrelevant to the meat plant operation.”

Approximately 1,100 positive cases recorded in meat plants

According to Carroll, more than 60 measures have been put in place in meat plants to ensure the safety of workers, and they have “proven to be robust”.

When asked by Deputy Carthy about the number of positive cases of Covid-19 that have been confirmed in MII companies, Carroll said their count is at approximately “1,100 positive cases since the commencement of the Covid outbreak”, with no active cases.

The outbreaks in meat plants corresponded with the spike of levels in the community.

Carroll added that as far as he is aware, mass testing took place in five sites overall, and these were sites that had significant clusters. There is currently no mass testing in meat plants taking place.

I think the proof of the effectiveness has been in the response we have seen from HSA inspections, which have shown that the measures taken were more than adequate for the measures that were intended.

In relation to on-site compliance officers, Carroll added that there is a “permanent presence of Department of Agriculture veterinary representatives in all meat plants, all year round”.

He also stated that a compliance officer has been appointed at every plant and that risk measures have been communicated effectively with all members of staff in every plant.

Chairman of the committee Michael McNamara read out a statement by the Department of Agriculture, which said that its focus and its presence is to do primarily with food hygiene and “consumers rely on the department inspections and the department is hugely important for consumers, far less to the view of workplace safety and workers protection”.