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'Dangerous' TD said ‘I’d sooner go to jail' when asked to wear mask in Leinster House

Another complaint saw one TD walking around the Convention Centre “coughing openly” while on the phone and without a face covering.”

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Leinster House. Picture by Tom Burke

Leinster House. Picture by Tom Burke

Leinster House. Picture by Tom Burke

A TD told a member of the Oireachtas Covid-19 compliance team that he would “sooner go to jail” than wear a mask in Leinster House.

Concerns were also raised about a lack of social distancing among ministerial drivers, who would then drive cars on lengthy journeys with cabinet members.

The details are contained in a new tranche of documents released by the Oireachtas detailing reported breaches of public health guidelines as well as aggression and bullying towards compliance staff in Leinster House and the Convention Centre.

Dozens of reports involving behaviour of TDs, Senators, political staff, and gardaí were made on an ongoing basis including one Oireachtas member who took two sanitary wipes and threw one on the floor and put another wipe he had handled back on a tray.

In one case in March, an official complaint was logged about a TD who said he would prefer to go to prison than wear a face covering.

An internal email said: “I believe [his] behaviour is dangerous, and also on the basis that I believe his pattern of behaviour and response in this and in other cases was abusive of staff.”

On another occasion in March, an Oireachtas member complained after a staff member went to inspect a party room in the Convention Centre.

“He said I should not enter until someone came to the door and added that I had no right to enter the room without permission,” said the report. “There were several members inside not wearing masks.”

On a later visit to the same office in April the situation was unchanged, with the same Oireachtas member ordering the compliance team member to leave.

“He approached me without a mask and closer than two metres,” said the report. “I had to ask him three times to put on a mask while talking to me … he was quite aggressive in his approach to me.”

Another complaint saw one TD walking around the Convention Centre “coughing openly” while on the phone and without a face covering.

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In another case, a deputy was spotted rooting in a cupboard with sanitary supplies.

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A Dáil sitting in the Convention Centre in Dublin. Picture by Maxwells

A Dáil sitting in the Convention Centre in Dublin. Picture by Maxwells

A Dáil sitting in the Convention Centre in Dublin. Picture by Maxwells


A log of the complaint said: “Deputy on the phone inspecting supply closet including touching packets of masks, I didn’t interact, removed any individual masks touched and closed the shutter on the closet.”

Repeated unsuccessful attempts were also made early this year to have some TDs stop wearing ineffective face visors, unless they could provide medical certification for using them.

A member of the compliance team said they would not keep asking: “Two TDs continue to wear visors. As they have already been requested to provide medical certification in respect of non-mask wearing, I don’t intend to ask them again.

“It has been indicated by [redacted] that they have not provided such certification.”

A similar issue with face visors was also logged later in February, but nothing had changed.

“I reminded Deputy [redacted] that I had asked him two weeks ago to provide a medical cert, but that none had been received,” said the complaints log.

“I explained that the measure was adopted in line with HSE and govt advice and was intended to protect everyone who was working in the parliamentary community. Deputy [redacted] grunted before taking a phone call and ignored me. He placed his dirty face visor on the desk.”

A member of one political party’s staff “laughed” at a member of the compliance team when they asked her to wear a mask, another log entry from February said.

“She nodded dismissively, so I added the policy is in place to keep staff as safe as possible and she laughed at this statement.”

An official complaint was also lodged about one TD who had been asked to socially distance in a canteen area last December, an incident also witnessed by an usher who was shocked by what he had seen.

An internal email said: “His [the usher’s] words were that ‘he was disgusted by the way the Deputy had responded to me and that it was disgraceful that his and other staff’s health was being put at risk by the Deputy’s behaviour’.”

Concerns were also raised about a lack of social distancing among some ministerial drivers in the Convention Centre late last year.

An email said: “They were coming and going for about two hours, and they were regularly standing and sitting very close together. They would then have been in close contact with ministers in the cars for a time afterwards.”

A later update said the same thing had happened again: “I think this poses a serious risk to the whole Cabinet due to the length of time they had been in close contact with no face coverings.”

The records also detail how a member of the compliance team had intended to draft written complaints about “abuse/harassment/bullying” of the staff involved.

However, internal emails said an alternative method of addressing the matters had been identified, with no further details provided.

The compliance team even had issues with gardaí on duty in the Oireachtas, with one disputing policy around the wearing of masks in March.

The complaint log said: “He [the garda] spoke quite angrily aloud while I walked away, saying that ‘they make up the rules as they go along’.

“I went out and checked the sign and it says — ‘face masks must be worn at all times unless alone, eating, drinking or contributing to debates’. He is wearing a mask now.”

Certain issues were also logged with one particular staff section where there was consistent and “major non-compliance”.

“This is a serious risk as they are in turn visiting members and staff throughout the complex,” said an email. A later message warned a “cluster of cases” would be disastrous.

Emails from March describe how compliance at the Convention Centre was “bad among all groups”, with mask wearing said to be a “really big problem”.

Some people had also taken the approach of having a tea, coffee, or snack in front of them at all times to “avail of the ‘eating/drinking’ exemption”.

An email said: “Most people respond positively when asked to comply with safety measures, but the percentage of people who argue, show disdain or ignore requests is growing.

“A small but growing cohort are rude, and clearly do not recognise that the compliance team members are doing their job.”

The email said consideration might have to be given to whether video or audio could be recorded of abusive encounters.

However, it also said some staff felt they were now being “watched”, while other workers had indicated they might stop attending the office due to “personal safety concerns”.

One member of the compliance team also wrote about their personal experience of having to “psych [themselves] up” for whatever would face them during their working day.

“The hostile/rude reaction of some is taking its toll,” said an email.

“The negative reaction of members and staff is disheartening, demoralising and saddening, given that our primary goal is to keep them all safe.”

The Oireachtas has again declined to provide the names of the TDs and Senators against whom complaints have been made following a request made under FOI.

They also sought more than €300 in fees for the search and retrieval of the records.

A spokeswoman said: “The records tell their own story about the situation at the time in question.”

She added: “However, since then, the situation has improved and there have been greater levels of compliance in recent months.”

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