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 Header Item Household Utility Bills Support: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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  12 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Claire Kerrane: Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane] There is nothing new in the Minister's amendment. The only new announcement for PUP recipients is that they are going to face tax bills. That is it. I appreciate that the Minister has said there is a cost in what we are proposing. I know that, but what is the cost of taking no action? We know that this State is spending billions every year dealing with poverty but we are taking no action on this. The Minister has spoken about the fuel allowance and about household benefits packages, neither of which people on the PUP can access. Hence the whole point of this motion in the first place. The Minister has taken exception to the €5 million fund. That is an ask from those very ten organisations that I have met and that I welcome that the Minister has said she has met. That is their ask; it is not a Sinn Féin one. It is coming from those people on the ground who are saying that what is there is not enough.

In response to Deputy Bruton who spoke a great deal about the type of heating that houses are using, that is well and good, but the reality is that people cannot afford to change their type of heating. When the Government keeps increasing the carbon tax, which will be increased by €7.50 in a few weeks, that makes it even more out of reach for people. They cannot afford to change their heating systems. I take exception to what has been said on the carbon tax increases and the non-impact that these will have on people. The Minister has a report by her own Department that tells her that the incoming increases and future increases in the carbon tax will impact low-income households disproportionately. I will send the Minister that report, although I can see her shaking her head. It is there in black and white. This is an issue that has been raised over and over again.

Reference was made to the warmer homes scheme. Again, this is great, but there are more than 8,000 people on a waiting list for that. I was speaking to a lady the other day and she has an application in since July 2019. Yes, those schemes are great, but if people cannot access them and are waiting nearly two years just to hear back, then that is a problem.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the position on utility bills and costs. This is not just coming from us and, in fairness, the Opposition is totally united in telling the Minister that there is a problem here, that workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and the families of those workers are suffering. They are struggling with these bills and we need the Minister to take action on them. That is the ask.

The double payment of the fuel allowance in February has been done before. It will cost approximately €20 million and will help people who are already in receipt of the fuel allowance who are struggling to meet their heating bills because more people are spending more time at home to comply with the public health restrictions. This means that they are using more electricity and heat. We need to take action on that. What the Minister’s amendment is suggesting is that the Government is spending a great deal of money on the PUP and on the employment wage subsidy scheme, and that is fine. What we and the organisations on the ground are saying to the Minister is that this is not enough. The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of €200 million to take action. I ask the Minister to look at what we have done in the North just last week. A one-off payment of £200 was made to recognise in some way at least how people are suffering in the midst of this global pandemic and to take some action to help those workers and families who the Minister has decided here today she is not going to help. That is a great shame.

  Amendment agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The amendment is agreed.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú It is not agreed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl It has just been agreed. The amendment was put and nobody dissented.

  Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

Deputy Claire Kerrane: Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane Vótáil

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl A division has been called and, in accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the scheduled weekly division time, which I understand will be organised later during the course of the Order of Business.

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Last week the Government announced its quarantine proposals for those travelling to this country. The Taoiseach described this plan as a system of mandatory quarantine. I told him at the time that it was nothing of the sort. The proposal the Taoiseach outlined was at best a form of self-isolation relying on the discretion of individuals but it certainly did not amount to a system of mandatory quarantine. It was a half-baked plan that did go far enough in protecting our people and it certainly falls short of what we need now to assist us in the fight to achieve maximum suppression of this deadly virus.

When I put this to the Taoiseach last week, he was adamant that his plan was well thought out and that the Government was in control of the situation, and he denied that this was a half-measure. I have to tell the Taoiseach that anybody watching the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, on the television last night will be disabused of any notion that the Government has any idea as to what it is doing on quarantine. It is absolutely incredible that at a time when we are at the deadliest stage of this pandemic, the Minister for Health has stated that the Government's quarantine proposal now only requires a person to stay at home and that he or she does not even have to isolate in a single room. The logic of that is that the individual can interact with members of his or her household, who then in turn may venture into the public space, meet with others and run the risk of spreading the virus.

It is very alarming to see that the Government is still at sixes and sevens here, all of which underscores the fact that its quarantine proposal was not thought out at all. Indeed, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly could not give a date for when the Government's very limited system of hotel quarantine would come into operation.

It is now six weeks since the far more infectious UK variant of the virus was identified here. I put it to the Taoiseach last week that his flawed plan was not alone too limited but that it would take a long time to get up and running. Again, he dismissed my concern saying that: "The measures on travel will not take weeks to implement; they will be implemented very quickly." However, the Minister for Justice has now contradicted him and has made clear that it will, in fact, be weeks before the legislation is introduced.

This is all incredible, not least because the issue of quarantine and international travel is not a new one and we know that the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, repeatedly raised concerns regarding international travel, concerns which were ignored by the Government except for the establishment months ago of an expert group to consider approaches to quarantine, yet here we are. What precisely was this group doing for those months? Where is the urgency and sense of purpose from the Government on this critical issue at this extraordinary time as we do battle with this virus?

We were notified of 101 deaths yesterday, a historic low point for us in this crisis. We are seeing the emergence of new strains of this virus and we have a vaccination programme which is still very much in its infancy. We also know, because the CMO has said it publicly, that we still do not have the testing and tracing capacity to hunt down this virus with the kind of speed that we require. Our ICUs are under enormous pressure and again the virus is taking its toll in our nursing homes.

It is for all of these reasons that we need a mandatory system of quarantine. I ask the Taoiseach to drop the half measures, to opt for this full system of mandatory quarantine and to bring the legislation to that effect to the House with all urgency.


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