ALL TDs are to be asked to pay for their own antigen tests on the Leinster House campus, after it was decided to provide free tests for staff.
fter a major row blew up about elected members being also able to pick up free tests, the Green Party whip Marc Ó Cathasaigh made a dramatic lunchtime announcement in the Dáil that TDs and senators were being asked to pay.
The Ceann Comhairle was also forced to make an unprecedented intervention when a row broke out in the Dáil after Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon said that it is “indefensible” for tests to be made free for politicians before schools.
The row broke out after TDs were told at a meeting of the Oireachtas Business Committee this morning that free antigen testing will be rolled out on-site in Leinster House.
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Several sources, who were present at the meeting, claimed that it was their understanding that TDs and senators would be able to get free tests as well as their parliamentary staff.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl denied that the tests will be free for politicians, in a sharp exchange with Deputy Gannon. Later in the Dáil sitting he said that TDs and senators should buy their own antigen tests outside of Leinster House or if they use the tests provided by the Oireachtas, they should pay for them.
The Ceann Comhairle commented that it was likely that eight asymptomatic but Covid-positive people were circulating in the crowded and narrow confines of Leinster House corridors on every sitting day.
He said 1,200 people used the parliamentary campus as their base. On a sitting day, an average of 800 people were moving around in “narrow corridors”, and it was likely from national statistics that “eight people who are circulating and moving around have Covid,” and were asymptomatic, but nevertheless capable to transmitting it to others.
He said there had been nine cases of Covid in the Leinster House campus last week, at least one of which was likely communicated within the workplace.
“The matter was discussed by the Business Committee. The view was that the antigen test should be made available from existing house resources to staff members free of charge.”
He added: “In respect of members of the House, the proposal discussed was that Members of the House should be encouraged to have antigen testing, and to acquire the test packs outside the house — or, if they were acquiring them here, that they should pay for them.”
Mr Ó Cathasaigh, reading the draft letter from his phone in the chamber, said the three Government parties “feel it’s necessary to ensure the parties and groups would make a full contribution to the cost of these tests if they’re used by members or their staff”.
“We would ask that the arrangements be put in place to ensure that this can be facilitated,” he added.
He said a letter was going out to members in the names of the whips of the three Coalition parties.
The decision to order and distribute the antigen tests for free was made by the Oireachtas Service.
Members of the Oireachtas Business Committee this morning were told that antigen tests have already been ordered and will be distributed through political party groupings from next week.
It comes a day after Minister Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that free antigen tests will not be handed out to members of the public, but that they will be free for close contacts and for schools.