In a strikingly bitter Dáil exchange, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accused the Sinn Féin leader of taking every opportunity to tell "untruths".

Mary Lou McDonald had told the Dáil that thousands of low paid workers kept the country going during the Covid-19 crisis.

These workers were essential and applauded but they cannot feed their children with applause, she said.

She said there is something very wrong when a Low Pay Commission cannot agree a meaningful wage increase for low paid workers.

"Is this your version of 'we are all in this together'? Because it strikes me that the fingerprints of the Tánaiste and Fine Gael are all over this."

She described the Government as being out of touch and she said the Taoiseach was in a "delusional reverie".

The Taoiseach accused Sinn Féin of making an extraordinary and outrageous political charge.

Mr Martin insisted that more than 750,000 workers are being supported by the State because of Covid-19.

He said he understood the Irish Congress of Trade Union's reason for pulling out of the Low Pay Commission and hopes they can go back into talks.

This week the ICTU withdrew from the commission, throwing the future of the Government-established body into doubt.

ICTU General Secretary Patricia King said the decision was prompted by the realisation that other members of the commission were not prepared to propose an increase in the national minimum wage for 2021 beyond 1%.

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Taoiseach accuses Sinn Féin over expenses

Meanwhile, during the contentious discussion about pay rises and the Low Pay Commission, the Taoiseach accused Sinn Féin of having "no shame" in drawing expenses 

Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly and John Brady had brought up the issue of the unions leaving the low pay commission while there was an increase in TDs pay.

Ms O'Reilly asked if the Taoiseach would legislate to propose a meaningful minimum wage.

The Taoiseach said the last five recommendations from the commission have been implemented - he said the State's intervention has been unprecedented in helping those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said Sinn Féin is the wealthiest party in the house and that some TDs took the full salary despite the party saying they would not. 

"You're not going to browbeat people by shouting and roaring" , he said to Ms O'Reilly as she spoke over him.

He said Sinn Féin had no shame in drawing expenses from Westminster and the Northern Assembly.

"I haven't raised millions of dollars in the United States like your party", he added.

Stronger messaging needed, Dáil hears

During Leaders' Questions, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall told the Taoiseach stronger public health messages are needed.

Ms Shortall also said alternative strategies to deal with the pandemic should be discussed in a public forum.

The Taoiseach said debate on public health should transcend party politics.

He said all parties were briefed on Friday and a further briefing with party leaders and with health spokespersons will be available.

Mr Martin said he does not believe in the herd immunity approach as not enough is known about the disease.

The Taoiseach said the economic and social implications of an elimination strategy would be very significant and severe. The strategy to suppress the disease is the correct one, he said.

Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach to consider cross-party discussion in order to look at the different approaches the country can take in order to deal with the virus in the medium to long term.

The Taoiseach said it would be a good idea to have a calm and more reasonable timeframe to discuss the different ways to manage the pandemic and that he will give it some time and consideration.

Maternity ward restrictions criticised

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the maternity ward restrictions are nonsensical where partners of pregnant women are not allowed to wards or to scans and have to sit outside in many cases.

He said it is unacceptable for a woman to be alone if getting the devastating news that a pregnancy is not viable.

The Taoiseach said what is happening is a reminder of how indiscriminate and devastating the pandemic has been in upending the norms of the human experience.

He said in maternity wards their objective is to do no harm and to protect mothers, babies and frontline workers.

He said the Department of Health is working on a document that would allow a consistent national approach to visitor restrictions.

The Taoiseach said it is dependent on different maternity wards and that there has to be some local decision.

He said he will continue to work with the Minister for Health to get a satisfactory response.

Mr Pringle said this is not about visitor restrictions - having one extra person in the ward doesn't make much difference.

He said compassion is lacking and that it sounds like an example of male chauvinistic privilege with men making decisions around a woman's fundamental right to bodily autonomy.

The Taoiseach said the risk-managers in hospitals need to be acknowledged in their job of trying to protect people.

Meanwhile, Labour Leader Alan Kelly asked about the flu vaccine. He said there is real concern about the supply of it and how will it be managed.

The Taoiseach said there has been issues in the delivery of the flu vaccine and that some has arrived and by the end of this month there will be additional supplies.