Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.54 25 Mar 2020


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Authorities will engage with construction companies and unions in the coming days to decide which building sites can remain open through the COVID-19 outbreak.

Strict new restrictions came into force this morning, with more non-essential workplaces being asked to close for now.

However, a number of groups have raised concerns that building sites were not included in the closures – with workers warning that it is extremely difficult to observe social distancing on many sites.

Covid 19 Coronavirus The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at a COVID-19 media conference at the Government Press Centre, 24-03-2020. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said a decision on what sites will have to close will be made in the coming days.

“It may be the case that on some sites it is possible to keep them open and in other sites, it may not,” he said.

“We also need to make a distinction between sites that may be essential – those that are building healthcare facilities that we may need and those that, perhaps, are not.

“It is an area where there is going to be engagement by the authorities, the unions and the construction industry over the next couple of days.”

This morning, the Unite union has called for the closure of all construction sites.

Meanwhile, Labour's employment spokesperson Ged Nash warned that building sites involve teams "working in very close quarters for intense periods of time... and there are serious risks involved with that".

RISE TD Paul Murphy, meanwhile, suggested that the refusal to close all construction sites, factories and call centres means the official advice is "inconsistent".

Flanagan The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, 21-10-2019 Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the important thing is that all guidelines regarding physical distancing are followed.

He explained: “There are big sites, and there are small sites… there are sites with large numbers of people, and sites with less numbers of people.

“As far as the physical distancing and going out is concerned, it applies also to workplaces, building sites and factories - that is ensuring the guidelines are complied with."

He suggested: “What we’re seeing is employers and unions and employees working together, because we’re all in this together.

“We can trust each other, we can help each other… provided we work within the guidelines."

Minister Flanagan noted that it's health officials who give the health advice, and then the government introduces the necessary guidelines or regulations in response to that.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also defended the decision to keep construction sites open.

He told The Pat Kenny Show: "Many of these people may actually now be involved in building things that we need to respond back to the next phase of COVID-19.

"Some of these construction sites may be delivering the facilities we urgently need in a few weeks time.

"Secondly, when you stop really important things happening, the cost of stopping that happening only gets bigger when we re-emerge from dealing with the crisis of the day."

Main image: File photo of Charlie Flanagan. Picture by: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

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