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Government knew about faulty sanitiser issue last week

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Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, with Virapro sanitiser

Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, with Virapro sanitiser

Fergal Phillips

Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Drumcondra, with Virapro sanitiser

A public warning and withdrawal notice about a useless and potentially dangerous hand sanitiser should have been issued a week ago, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has admitted.

He said he has ordered an urgent review over his Department's handling of the information since October 16, adding that he himself had only been informed on Thursday night.

Ireland has known for a month that the hand sanitiser sent here had failed tests in Denmark, he revealed.

Mr McConalogue addressed the Dáil briefly on the matter last night, but questions about gaps in communications about the need to remove the sanitiser from use remain unanswered.

At the centre of the controversy is a ViraPro hand sanitiser, which has been recalled.

The Department of Education sent a message to schools late on Thursday night that it should not be used, forcing some to close yesterday.

Recall

The Department of Agriculture withdrew approval for the product on Tuesday but that was not formally communicated to the Department of Education or the HSE until Thursday.

The sanitiser was on the public procurement lists for both schools and healthcare settings.

The initial recall concerned a ViraPro gel with the code PCS 100409, but the Department of Agriculture has now advised that all ViraPro products should be removed from use.

ViraPro products are also on general sale.

Some of the product contains methanol rather than ethanol and prolonged use may cause dermatitis, eye irritation, upper respiratory system irritation and headaches.

Natasha Bassett, principal of St Patrick's NS, Drumcondra, Dublin, said she only learned about it on social media on Thursday night after a friend read about in on Twitter.

That triggered a late-night scramble to verify the information and the decision to contact parents of their 500 pupils.

Professor Anne Looney, Dean of Education at Dublin City University (DCU) Institute of Education, which is on the same campus, is chair of the school board of management.

In her efforts to identify an alternative source of sanitisers, Prof Looney said: "I found myself googling opening times in the local Woodies."

Ms Bassett said they also considered asking parents to send in sanitiser with children, but there "was too much uncertainty.

"What if a child didn't have it? Can children share sanitisers? We need to be able to guarantee the safety of pupils and staff."

Ultimately, they said they made the decision to close, but Prof Looney said: "If we had known at 6-7pm, we might have been able to keep the school open".

Schools that closed yesterday do not have to make up the day later in the year. Schools impacted will also be provided with funding for an aide for two days to assist with dealing with these issues.

Mr McConalogue told the Dáil that Olaf, the European anti-fraud agency, notified the Revenue Commissioners that ViraPro imports from Turkey contained an excess amount of methanol.

Revenue notified his Department on September 25, he said, and arrangements were made to test the consignment and "a number of other containers already been imported into Ireland from the same supplier."

He admitted it would have been "appropriate" for the Government to have issued a public notice about the "potentially dangerous" hand sanitiser when lab tests at the Department's own facility at Backweston had confirmed contamination with methanol in consignments in Ireland a week ago.

He said ViraPro had now been removed from the approved products register, having been certified for use in Ireland on April 21, 2020, on the basis that it contained 70pc ethanol, or industrial alcohol.

But tests showed inadequate levels of ethanol were found, rendering it useless as a sanitiser.

Excess levels of the irritant methanol were found instead, Mr McConalogue said.


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