Dáil staff policing Covid rules encountered ‘abuse and hostility’
8th August 2021
© Getty Leinster House
A TD refused to wear a mask when walking through Leinster House and sparked complaints from a staff member who was forced to use the same toilet as him.
Other politicians and staff became “defiant or abusive” when asked to stick to public health guidelines at the Convention Centre and around the Dáil or Seanad.
Staff members also reported being on the receiving end of “abuse and hostility” when asking people to comply with restrictions, according to a log of complaints and Covid-19 breaches made to Oireachtas authorities.
In emails, one staff member said he used an alternate route to his office so he would not have to pass the room of a male TD who never wore a mask.
The complaint said: “(He) entered the bathroom while I was there, and he was not wearing a mask… I had no warning he was approaching.”
The complainant’s email said it was a source of “considerable anxiety” and the idea of confronting the person and asking him to wear a mask was “an intimidating one” when he was an elected member of the Dáil.
At the Convention Centre, a staff member wrote of having to ask a group of politicians from one political party four times to move apart.
An email read: “Although there was no push back from anyone we asked, every time we went back around, members had moved back towards each other.”
At one stage, they asked a female politician about keeping her distance from others.
“(She) pointed at her colleagues and told me jokingly it was them I needed to police,” said the email.
“I told her that we were only two people and that we needed their help in managing this.”
A complaint was also logged about a group of TDs being asked to keep their distance when leaving the Convention Centre.
An email read: “All were very compliant except XX who said: ‘Sure, what difference does it make. We haven’t got it’, and then: ‘We’ve all had it at this stage. It’s been here since Christmas’.”
It was one of 20 separate public health issues logged by a single member of the Covid compliance team over the course of only five hours at the Convention Centre.
Later, in a more detailed complaint, a staff member wrote: “There is a cohort of members (TDs or Senators) in particular who simply do not care what we say to them with regard to physical distancing, or how often we say it to them. That is the reality. One in particular was rude and insulting to a member of the team.”
Another complaint related to a group of political staff from one party who kept moving furniture so they could sit closer together in a dining area.
An email read: “I had an incident at lunchtime in the coffee dock where we repeatedly asked eight political staff who had gathered in two groups of four to move their chairs back to their designated spot.”
On the third time of being asked, they eventually moved the chairs. However, a staff member returned a little later and the furniture had again been moved.
Other employees wrote of their fears of lengthy exposure to risky situations where they were required to be in the building for extended periods of time.
One said they had to spend 41 hours in the Dáil chamber in a single week.
Their email said: “These hours of attendance in the Dáil chamber are set to be repeated for a number of weeks into the future and they pose a serious risk of my exposure to the virus.”
In committee rooms, some TDs and Senators were reported to be regularly swapping seats and failing to use sanitiser or wipes when moving around.
The rooms were also frequently reported to be overcrowded.
The Oireachtas had originally refused to release copies of the detailed complaints. However, the case was appealed to the Information Commissioner by transparency group Right to Know and the records — with individual names redacted — were subsequently released.
A spokeswoman for the Oireachtas said a Covid-19 compliance team had been established for the protection of everyone in the parliamentary community.
She said: “Occasionally and very much in line with the broader public experience, some Covid fatigue appeared to set in, and some individuals were reminded of the public health guidelines.
“The large majority of people who were approached about compliance issues during the period covered by these records responded positively and immediately remedied any issue.”