Oireachtas staff will receive antigen tests for free, the Dáil business committee has heard. There had been initial confusion over whether TDs and Senators would be eligible for free antigen tests.
In response to a query from BreakingNews.ie, the Oireachtas press office confirmed: "The antigen tests will not be free for TDs and Senators.
"As an employer, the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is making tests available free of charge to its staff who have to be on site. This is part of our continued efforts to keep the parliamentary community and workplace safe."
Cost of tests
According to The Irish Times, Government parties have taken the decision to cover the cost of tests for their members.
Writing to the Ceann Comhairle, the coalition whips said they felt it was "necessary to ensure that parties and groups would make a full contribution to the cost of these tests if they are used by members or their staff".
"We would ask that formal arrangements be put in place to ensure that this can be facilitated for the three parties [Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party] undersigned,” the letter said.
The committee also heard the tests have been ordered and will be made available from next week for members, their staff and employees of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Sinn Féin's Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty has "welcomed the decision by the Oireachtas to abandon its plan to give free antigen tests to politicians".
Mr Doherty said: "I raised the utterly ridiculous suggestion that TDs and Senators should be offered free antigen testing - while ordinary workers and families are being forced to pay for them - in the Dáil earlier today.
"I welcome the fact that the Oireachtas has now changed its position. It is ludicrous that this suggestion could be entertained at a time when the government has no coherent policy in respect of antigen testing.
Antigen testing needs to be rolled out widely, and they need to be free
"Antigen testing needs to be rolled out widely, and they need to be free; just like they are in the north. That must be a government priority."
The chair of an expert group set up to examine the use of rapid testing in Ireland, Professor Mary Horgan, has said that their recommendation had been that such tests should be subsidised, so they could be widely available.
It would be a policy decision for the Government to what extent antigen tests would be subsidised, she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
However, Prof. Horgan cautioned that there needed to be a better understanding of how, when and where to use rapid tests.
While she thought that public understanding of how antigen tests worked had improved, there remained a need for a public information campaign as well.
“A negative test result doesn't give you the green light to go off and do anything,” she warned.
Rapid testing was “another tool, another layer” in the fight against Covid-19, but it was not a substitute for anything else, she said. As a frontline worker (she is an infectious diseases consultant at Cork University Hospital), she knew first hand the need to use every tool available.
There was a need to ensure that people were using rapid tests appropriately and at the right time. It was also important to link the use of rapid testing with the contact tracing system and that if people had a positive result that they follow up and take a PCR test.
People involved in high risk activities, not once off events, such as car sharing, eating in restaurants, visiting relatives in nursing homes should take rapid tests, she said. For example in the case of a wedding the group attending should all take a rapid test before going to the ceremony and if anyone tested positive they should not attend and seek out a PCR test.
Tests should be taken twice weekly, three days apart, she explained.
Meanwhile, Minister for Education Norma Foley has confirmed that antigen tests will now be made available to children in a primary school pod if a child in the pod tests positive for Covid.
Ms Foley said: "We've also been told that parents and guardians will be asked to inform the school principal of a positive Covid result and the principal will then inform parents of other children in the pod. No personal details will be shared.
In a case where two or more cases arise in a class within a seven day period outside of the original pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class. "
A HSE call centre will be put in place to facilitate parents having antigen tests delivered to their home - they expect the full process will be operational on or before November 29th.
These antigen tests will be free of chagre.