Antigen tests will be available free to staff working in Leinster House from next week, but not for TDs and Senators, the Oireachtas has confirmed.

The move caused confusion after it was ordered by the Dáil Business Committee this morning.

Government parties said they would oppose any free tests for TDs and Senators and wrote to the Ceann Comhairle to say they would pay for the tests for their elected members.

In the Dáil, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon insisted that he believed TDs would get free tests from next week and he described the move as ludicrous.

However, Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghail intervened and said this was completely untrue.

The Government consistently stated throughout the week that antigen tests would be subsidised but not made available free to people.

The whips of the three Coalition parties emailed the Ceann Comhairle requesting that both groups and parties in the Dáil should make a "full contribution" to the cost of antigen tests, if they are used by either elected members or their staff.

In an email, the whips requested that formal arrangements be put in place to ensure this can be facilitated by the Government parties.

The email is signed by Jack Chambers of Fianna Fáil, Brendan Griffin of Fine Gael and Marc Ó Cathasaigh of the Green Party.

Labour TD Duncan Smith had described today's announcement as not "a good look" and he dissented at the committee.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said last week there were nine cases of Covid in the Houses of the Oireachtas which "was four times the previous incidence of infections, and that included one likely on site transmission".

There are "on average 800 people" on site on a sitting day, working in confined spaces, which - according to national statistics - means "about eight people" have Covid but are non-symptomatic, he told the Dáil at the conclusion of Questions on Promised Legislation.

So a proposal was discussed by the Business Committee, and "the view was that the antigen test should be made available from existing House resources to staff members free of charge", the Ceann Comhairle said.

Members of the House "should be encouraged to have antigen testing, to acquire the test packs outside the House, or - if they acquire then here - they should pay for them", he added.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told the Dáil that he does not want to see a "them and us narrative" on antigen testing.

He said that party whips will be discussing how to cover the cost of testing for Oireachtas members.

Mr Ryan said: "We do need to use antigen on a regular screening-type basis", adding that "it's being held back because of health advice, but I believe we are coming to a resolution of that."

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said free antigen testing must be made available to all.

Additional reporting Paul Cunningham