Unannounced inspections in meat plants ‘should become policy’ – Calleary

Unannounced inspections in meat processing plants “should become policy” according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 today, Sunday, August 9, Minister Calleary said he wants to see future inspections carried out by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to be unannounced.

He said it would be of “concern” to him if all meat plants were given notice in advance of every inspection carried out, adding that unannounced inspections “should become policy”.

Minister Calleary said:

“One of the early justifications from the HSA was that during the height of the pandemic everything needed to be much more structured than it normally would be. Secondly, production at meat factories is incredibly complex – I think it was the HSA getting used to that.

I want to see unannounced inspections. I think they are needed – they will help us to ensure adherence to the protocols and adherence to workers’ rights and standards.

“Farmers who have farm safety inspections don’t get notice, so the same should apply to industry.”

Lockdown restrictions are being implemented in counties Kildare, Offaly and Laois for two weeks with the outbreak of cases in these counties largely associated with meat processing factories.

‘Rolling out testing across meat and food factories’

Minister Calleary said he would like to see the meat industry “step up and pay” for Covid-19 testing to be carried out in meat factories, as the outbreaks have not only just affected them but also had “a huge impact on the people in the counties” where the factories are based.

He also addressed concerns over factory workers receiving sick pay, saying that he has spoken to Minister Heather Humphreys and that “the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the enhanced Illness Benefit are in place for any worker who feels that he or she may have symptoms and we will continue to work to get that information to workers”.

The minister added: “This is incredibly difficult on the three counties. I know there is anger. This virus is violent but we are doing everything as a government to try and ensure we are doing huge testing across the area.

“We’ll be rolling out testing across meat and food factories. It is our intention to try and stop this in its tracks.”

‘Not appropriate’ for meat plants affected by Covid-19 to open

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that it would “not be appropriate” for meat plants affected by Covid-19 outbreaks to reopen tomorrow, Monday, August 10.

Speaking on RTÉ News last night, Saturday, August 8, Minister Donnelly said that “this is not about attributing blame or saying it is anybody’s fault”.

“What we saw in the first few months were outbreaks in meat plants all over Ireland and indeed all over the world,” the minister said.

Ireland was the first country in Europe to put a protocol in place – a Covid protocol specifically for meat plants.

“The result of that is through July there were very few cases reported in meat plants. What we’re seeing now [in meat plants] happened very quickly.

“There has been a very quick and localised response. Nonetheless, I will be meeting with the industry on what more can be done because clearly these are high-risk workplaces.”