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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] We now have Garda checkpoints at airports restricting people and penalising those in breach of the level 5 regulations. This is absolutely unprecedented. We are going to put in place hotel facilities to facilitate mandatory quarantining for people who come into Ireland from countries such as South Africa, Brazil and the UK. On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer a person will have to take a mandatory PCR test if he or she has not taken one in advance of coming into the country. It will be an offence not to do that. For home quarantining, people will have to stay within their homes. This will be enforced by An Garda Síochána and others.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Will it be in their rooms?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin How do we police someone in his or her bedroom?

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I ask the Taoiseach to answer the question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I ask the Deputy to answer that question in the context of common sense and practicality around enforcement. That said, the public health advice on the specific circumstances of cases will apply to people as they apply across the board. They are very clear issues. There is a balance to be struck in us getting it right around personal freedoms, legal enforceability and sanctions. We are taking comprehensive legal advice on this as well as ensuring that we get the numbers down for travel into the State and that there is an effective quarantining system. There is legislation and regulations that have been passed, for example, the removal of short-term visa free travel into the country from many countries has already happened and been regulated for. All of that will have an impact on numbers coming into the country and it is having an impact already on the numbers coming in. Deputy Shortall said it has been a consistent failure, but Deputies from her party have stood up in this House and criticised the Government around the lack of supports for airports and for airlines on the basis of our policy of being so restrictive on foreign travel. The Deputy cannot have both ways in that respect.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall That is not having it both ways.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In response to the issues, I have outlined that this will be a very severe regime for the quarantining of people. It involves the quarantining in hotels of people from certain countries where there is a particular concern around the importation of the variant and home quarantining of Irish citizens and people more generally, with follow up in terms of enforcement.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The Taoiseach has not answered any of the questions I asked him. His point about support for the airlines is nonsense. Of course we need to support airlines and airline workers if there are serious controls on travel. Throughout last year we had advice to self-isolate, which did not work. We know there was not any enforcement of this and that there was no serious system in place. This changed to restrict one's movements. We know there was no policing of that and it did not work. In Christmas week the Government was advising people to self quarantine at home. We know how that ended. None of these things is enforceable. When I asked the Taoiseach how exactly would quarantining at home work he did not answer the question, but he talked about people's rights and not being able to police what goes on in homes. This is exactly what we have been saying. This idea of home quarantining is unenforceable. The Taoiseach has admitted this himself. What is he talking about? The Taoiseach mentioned personal freedoms.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Everybody is paying a huge price in the curtailment of their personal freedoms.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Thank you Deputy, but the time is up.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The Taoiseach needs to put a system in place of mandatory hotel quarantining so that we have some prospect of people being able to exercise personal freedoms and so we can have some element of opening up the country to normality. That can be done with a zero Covid policy. It cannot be done-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy Shortall please, the time is up.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall -----with a confused plan that the Taoiseach has now.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Can we hear the Taoiseach, please?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin With respect, the Deputy is a very late convert to zero Covid. The Deputy has been see-sawing around the place from the Opposition side.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall That is not true.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is true, and I can point to some of the Deputy's contributions on that.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Please do.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Deputy certainly did not oppose the lifting of the measures at the beginning of December. The Deputy certainly did not oppose them in the Dáil-----

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall A number of us briefed-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I want to say, if I am allowed to speak, that people have adhered-----

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall -----at the beginning of December-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The vast majority of people-----

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Will the Taoiseach explain-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy Shortall, will you allow the Taoiseach to respond?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The people have adhered, by and large, to the restrictions. When one makes something illegal and a penal provision is made, it has an impact in people's behaviour. It has had an impact on people's behaviour. Consider mask wearing, for example. I pushed very hard to make mask wearing compulsory in public-----

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Will the Taoiseach-----

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----but we were told it would not be enforceable. If we brought it in for public transport, we were asked who would enforce it. Would it be the bus drivers or the gardaí and all of that kind of stuff? I heard all the problems about it. It was enforced from day one by the people. The people themselves adhered to it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Taoiseach's time is up.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Likewise, this measure will have an impact.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The Taoiseach said it would not be enforceable.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I said in respect of the bedroom that it was not enforceable and the Deputy deliberately twisted it in her response. Home quarantining can be-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The time is up, please.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall What are we talking about? Is it going into a house?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Home quarantining can be more readily enforceable than just swinging into somebody's bedroom, and the Deputy knows this.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We are going ahead now, and we will hear from Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett People Before Profit was not a latecomer to calling for mandatory quarantine or for a zero Covid strategy. We have been calling for this for months. Yesterday we saw that Ireland paid a very bitter price with 101 fatalities, a record number, for the Taoiseach's failure to embrace a coherent zero Covid strategy and to impose mandatory quarantine.

I now will address another chronic failure. It is ironic that the Taoiseach referred to workers in his justification for not imposing quarantine and zero Covid. Today is the 300th day of the dispute of the Debenhams workers. This is a group that the Taoiseach has very badly let down and who have been treated despicably by a company for whom they had worked for 20 or 30 years. They have fought an heroic battle to force Debenhams, and indeed to force the Government, to ensure the collective agreement they had for proper redundancies of two weeks statutory plus two weeks for all of those years worked would be honoured. The Government has abandoned them. The Government has insulted them with a €3 million retraining fund, which is just ridiculous. We also have 490 Arcadia workers in Top Shop and in many other stores who now face a similar situation. They have a similar agreement with Arcadia for two plus two weeks redundancy arrangements, and they are facing the prospect of getting only the statutory redundancy and their employers doing the same despicable thing that was done to Debenhams workers.

I want to know, even at this late stage, whether the Taoiseach is going to show the solidarity for workers he implied in his last contribution by, as a minimum, giving the €3 million retraining fund as a direct cash down payment on the two plus two that those workers are entitled to. Will the Taoiseach answer the question the workers have asked, and on which Mandate has written twice to him this month, although he has not even bothered to reply, about the precedent of the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation, IBRC? The Taoiseach said that we could not possibly bump the workers up the priority list of creditors in a liquidation. However, we have happened upon what happened in the case of the IBRC when there was a similar claim made at the time by the a previous Minister, Michael Noonan. It was discovered that €5.5 million had been put aside in IBRC in the wind up of Anglo Irish Bank, which was bailed out by the people, where they were given an enhanced redundancy arrangement. Guess who the liquidator was then? It was Kieran Wallace of KPMG, which also claims that we cannot do this. Even one of the Taoiseach's own spokespersons has spoken about a statutory fund to assist workers such as this who are shafted by employers and who do not get their proper redundancy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Even at this late stage, on the 300th day of this dispute, will the Taoiseach do right by the Debenhams workers and the Arcadia workers?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I dispute the Deputy's assertion that the Government has not engaged on this issue. It has. I was very clear and honest in our presentation to the workers from the get go. Politically, others created expectations that were never going to be realised within the legal framework available to the Government. The Government is not responsible for the actions of the company. The company has treated the workers very badly. Government is the only party to this entire dispute that has actually fulfilled its obligations, and €13 million has been provided in direct Exchequer support to guarantee the employment rights for statutory redundancy. This gets dismissed by the Deputy and does not even get mentioned.


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