Sunday, August 09, 2020

Portlaoise businessman Damien Nee has resigned in frustration from the national Expert Advisory Group on Covid-19

By Carmel Hayes

A PORTLAOISE man has resigned from the national Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on Covid-19, amid frustration at failure to prevent a surge in cases that has plunged Laois into semi-lockdown.

Damien Nee, who is also public/patient representative on national ICU committee NOCA, resigned from the EAG this weekend.

His resignation letter states: “It has been known that meat plants are a source of infection and questionable labour practices. Failure to ruthlessly monitor, test and trace meat plant employees has resulted in this dreadful situation in Laois, Kildare and Offaly.

“Further failure to quarantine the residents and staff of the Direct Provision Centres has exacerbated this. The people of Laois, Offaly and Kildare deserve better proactive preventative measures.”

Mr Nee says the “final straw” came when he tried to raise his concerns with the EAG about the spike in Covid cases in Direct Provision Centres and meat factories last week.

A co-founder of the Heroes-Aid charity, which sources PPE for hospital and healthcare workers, Mr Nee sent a resignation letter to the EAG expressing his deep concern about the handling of the latest crisis. He is the first EAG member to resign.

He wrote: “The final straw has been skipping two (EAG) meetings, at possibly the most critical time in the evolution of the coronavirus situation in Ireland. It is like making a statement that the EAG feels it has no contribution to make to this issue.”

The local businessman was invited onto the EAG by the HSE to represent the interests of the public. He believes that advisory groups to the Government must take a more proactive approach in the battle against the virus. The EAG advises the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which in turn advises the Government on Covid-19.

Mr Nee, who has lived in Laois for years and is a passionate advocate for patients and healthcare staff, also wants a box of 50 medical face masks to be sent to every household in Laois and the neighbouring semi-lockdown counties of Offaly and Kildare.

In his resignation letter, which has been circulated to all EAG members, he also criticises the Government’s mixed messaging on wearing face masks, which left the public unnecessarily confused. A  strong advocate for the wearing of face masks ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, his letter states: “The EAG has not had the impact on the public that it is capable of having, at a time when strong unambiguous direction and imperatives must be given.

“A member of the Dáil Covid-19 Committee, in a recent radio interview, expressed a degree of uncertainty about the scientific case for mask wearing, based on a discussion with an EAG member. Is this the position of the EAG? Mixed and ambiguous messaging must not happen.”

The Portlaoise resident was invited onto NOCA after he had a heart bypass in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, more than three years ago, which made him keenly aware of a chronic shortage of ICU beds in Ireland.

When he was involved in the effort to set up Heroes-Aid last April, he said: “Since I ended up on the NOCA committee, I have come to know many wonderful ICU staff across Ireland. The thought of them and their support staff, such as catering and cleaning, not having adequate PPE is deeply disturbing. Even worse, many of the incredibly brave staff will lose their lives, so that our families, friends and neighbours might survive.”


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