People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith has described Ibec’s submission on Covid-19 cases in meat factories as “a fine work of fiction”.

Speaking to the representatives of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) at the Oireachtas Special Meeting on Covid-19 Response, deputy Smith said Ibec’s report on meat factories “reads like a different world”.

MII is the Ibec trade association that represents the meat sector in Ireland.

“It’s not often we get to read such a fine work of fiction at these committee meetings,” deputy Smith said.

“The world that you [MII reps] live in is a world that says the meat industry did everything right at the right time, in the right way and that there were no issues with health and safety in plants – a perfect community with happy workers and empathetic employers.

Now, either it’s fiction or you’re being totally defensive, like Lady Macbeth; who ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much’, and I think the latter is the case.

Deputy Smith added: “It doesn’t strike me that you are looking for answers; I think you’re trying to cover up.”

‘The conditions workers endure’

Social Democrats’ spokesperson on agriculture Holly Cairns said that many TDs on the committee have concerns following the Oireachtas meeting.

She said that the “levels of uncertainty around Covid-19 clusters in some plants and concerns for workers’ rights demand an immediate and effective response”.

“The scale of Covid-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants illustrated underlying issues in this sector. We were all aware of the unsustainably low prices farmers received and now we have a clearer picture of the conditions workers have to endure,” deputy Cairns said.

Workers [were] left vulnerable due to immigration status, a lack of unannounced health and safety inspections and conflicting information from workers’ representatives and MII.

“I have no doubt that there is a clear need for an investigation of this industry and its practices.”

Seeking a taskforce

Earlier this week, AgriLand reported that deputy Cairns said she would be seeking a taskforce to look into the “terms and conditions for workers in this sector and to examine state funding”.

She asked the representatives from MII if they would support this. MII chairman Philip Carroll responded, saying that he did not “see the merit” in a taskforce being sought.