‘Not correct to exclude’ elderly vets from working in meat plants – Department of Agriculture

A senior official with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said he received “legal advice” that said it was “not correct to continue to exclude” vets aged over 70 years of age from working in meat factories.

It has also been confirmed that these vets, temporary veterinary inspectors (TVIs) who work for the Department of Agriculture, sign a waiver to the effect that they cannot sue if they contract Covid-19 while working in a factory.

Michael Sheahan of the department told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response last week that in the early stages of “the so-called lockdown, we took the decision that anybody over 70 should not be rostered to do work in our meat plants”.

However, as time went on, that decision was challenged both legally and by Veterinary Ireland, on the basis that it was unfair and potentially not legal.

Sheahan added that it was “about a month or six weeks ago” that the department had discussions with Veterinary Ireland along with legal services from both sides who advised that it was “not correct for us to continue to exclude those aged over 70”.

Over 70s sign waivers

Sinn Féin spokesperson for the elderly Patricia Ryan raised concerns about those over 70 working in factories as they “are in a vulnerable group and have underlying health issues”.

She told Michael Sheahan that it had been reported to her that the Department of Agriculture asked these inspectors – who she was told “number between 50 and 60” – to sign a waiver to the effect that they cannot sue if they contract Covid-19 in the workplace.

Sheahan confirmed that workers over 70 are asked to sign a waiver. He added that approximately 20% of the department’s TVIs are over 65.