The Minister for Health has said advice stating that TDs cannot spend any longer than two hours in the Dáil chamber on any given day is specific to the Oireachtas as a workplace.
Simon Harris said the advice was commissioned and received by the Oireachtas and that he is "only going along with it."
The advice was provided by Professor Martin Cormican of University Hospital Galway ahead of the first sitting of the special Dáil committee on Covid-19 on Tuesday.
It has meant, among other things, that Minister Harris had to withdraw from a second session of Dáil questions this evening.
The advice stated that if a person develops Covid-19, anyone who had spent a cumulative period of two hours or more during a 24-hour period in an enclosed space with that person must self isolate for 14 days.
"It will be necessary to have the people leave the room before two hours have elapsed and not at two hours, and it will be necessary that they do not reassemble on that same day," Mr Cormican wrote.
The advice has prompted concerns among opposition TDs around the wider implications. Concerns have also been raised around parliamentary accountability and whether the same advice should apply to other workers.
The advice was published by Chief Executive of the Courts Service Angela Denning, who said the service had been advised there was no need to limit court sessions to two hours and the courts would resume conducting sittings for longer than that period from tomorrow.
Ms Denning wrote to staff and representatives of those who use the courts, letting them know the advice was received from Prof. Cormican of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the advice has "huge ramifications."
He told the Dáil that the HSE's Guidelines for the Management of Covid-19 have now been updated to include the advice. "If NPHET were aware of this, why wasn't it socialised before?" he asked.
"Was there not a risk being created across the community by the fact that this hadn't been socialised before this? You take my local shop. They hadn't a clue about this. So effectively if any one of them had to get this, they would have to close the shop."
The Minister for Health has said advice stating that TDs cannot spend any longer than two hours in the Dáil chamber on any given day is specific to the Oireachtas as a workplace | https://t.co/bW3KpxRG7r pic.twitter.com/KzjwJuXGEI— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 21, 2020
Mr Kelly also wanted to know who initiated the request for advice, or the conversation between the Oireachtas and the Department of Health which resulted in the advice being provided. The Minister said he did not know, and that he only found out about the advice this week.
"I am a receiver of this advice, rather than a maker of it," Mr Harris said.
Under questioning in the Dáil, the Minister said: "My understanding is that the Oireachtas brought in an independent health expert to asses this workplace and to provide guidance not just to TDs and Senators and Ministers but to everybody in this workplace we have a duty of care to as well, and that was the viewpoint on that."
"I am only going along with that, not as a Minister but as a TD in my workplace. I believe that is the Oireachtas' public health advice from an independent expert brought in by them," he said.
"In relation to other workplaces, it is about carrying out a risk-based assessment in any workplace and there are a variety of factors that can pertain to the safety of a location, how long to spend in a room and the likes as well," he said.
"I am following the advice in this workplace, so are you. Everybody has to follow the public health advice in their workplace. There's a HSA in place that has carried out 190 inspections of workplaces on Monday and Tuesday along this week. So every workplace has to work in a safe way and we need to lead by example," the Minister said.
Mr Kelly said this response was not good enough. "All the other sectors across Ireland, what are they meant to do here now. The meat factories, pharmacists, those who are there to serve us and are doing a fantastic job. If we apply the rules that we are applying here to them, they cannot operate or they are not viable in many cases. So why did this all of a sudden arrive this week if NPHET knew this to be the situation for an area like this and an organisation like the Dáil, how come similar advice wasn't given to all the other sectors?"
Mr Harris said: "NPHET did not do this."
The current arrangements for Dáil sittings require a quorum of ten members for debate to take place.
A maximum of 20 TDs may attend at any debate except when a vote is called.
In that event, a maximum of 45 members may attend.
Dispersed seating arrangements will be used however, 31 deputies will be seated through the Dáil sitting area, including in the seats set aside for distinguished visitors and for government officials.
Another 14 will be seated in the division lobbies and votes will take place by the clerk of the Dáil calling out members names who will vote in their places.
Dáil business sessions are broken by 20 minute breaks during which time the chamber is sanitised.