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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The HSE deserves considerable credit for ramping up a very significant testing and tracing capacity, with up to 150,000 tests per week now. I recall people articulating loudly not so long ago for 100,000 tests per week. I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that 137,000 were conducted last week. However, the Deputy is correct in saying there has been a resistance from the clinical and public health perspective to antigen testing. It is fair to say that those in clinical and public health see PCR testing as the gold standard. They are applying it and using it now. NPHET has advised that it can be used in outbreak settings, in hospitals or in nursing home settings. There has been a reluctance to override the clinical and public health advice on antigen testing to date. The view is that its optimal use now is in the context of outbreaks.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Taoiseach promised me some time ago that he would meet with Councillor Kieran Bourke and his Fianna Fáil colleagues on Tipperary County Council regarding the scandalous closure of St. Brigid's hospital, in Waterford. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, met them yesterday armed with HSE officials, who said the hospital was closed because it might flood. The existing hospital has been there for 140 years and has never flooded. There are such diatribes and lies coming out of the HSE, and the Taoiseach is hiding behind the cover of that. He has political accountability, as does the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for older people but they are denying the people of Carrick-on-Suir and indeed the Minister of State's constituency access to this wonderful facility. Now St. Theresa's, Clogheen, has been taken up as a Covid hospital and there is no place for people to go for respite or palliative care in south Tipperary because of this reckless closure of St. Brigid's in the middle of a pandemic. My goodness, someone would want to pinch the Taoiseach and wake him up. The hospital is closed in the middle of a pandemic and the people in the surrounding area are denied a perfectly good hospital, and then there is the refusal to meet people. Will the Taoiseach meet with Councillor Bourke and his colleagues?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Deputy. I call the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Deputy needs to change his tone. His continuing relentless hostility is regrettable to have to witness weekly, but that is the way he operates and that is his entitlement. I have refused to meet no one. The Deputy keeps coming in here every week saying I am refusing to meet somebody. I have refused to meet nobody. Obviously, with Covid, we cannot meet people physically.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath A virtual meeting.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We can meet people virtually, and I know that Deputy Cahill and others would facilitate that meeting tomorrow morning or whenever else. Deputy McGrath cannot keep on attacking people in a very nasty way left, right and centre and then expect-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Taoiseach. I call Deputy McNamara.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I wish to return again to the issue of antigen testing, which I have raised several times, both before and after Christmas. The European Commission advocated greater use of antigen testing in November. It is being rolled out right across Europe. The Biden Administration has now introduced far greater use of antigen testing in America, including in homes. Here NPHET has finally moved, reluctantly, to a very circumscribed role for antigen testing in the context of outbreaks, and only in that context.

Is there a conflict of interest between being chair of NPHET and being director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, which has very large contracts with the State for PCR testing? I am not saying there is any subjective bias on the part of that member of NPHET, but there is a clear perception there is objective bias, or a clear possibility of it. What is the reluctance to antigen testing? Whatever opening up will take place in March will have to be done safely, and there is a role for antigen testing in our hospitals, our schools and especially our homes.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy McNamara is over time.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara What is the reluctance in this State to this?

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The reluctance, from what I can surmise and gather from the discussions I have had, is that NPHET believes the PCR test is gold standard. It believes a lot can be missed through antigen testing. That said, it has now advised that it can be used in outbreak settings. I know that the Deputy chaired the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which I presume discussed this, zero Covid and the whole range of issues that were brought before that committee-----

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Before the Government wound it up.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----throughout the summer. I do not accept the Deputy's point that there is a conflict of interest between being chair of NPHET and being director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, NVRL. To be fair to all concerned, everybody has come together in different contexts to help the country defeat and suppress Covid-19. We should accept people's bona fides in that regard. There is a reluctance within the political sphere and within the Government sphere to override this kind of-----

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

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am not an expert on testing or the most-----

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Presumably, Biden and Merkel are experts.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Please, Deputies.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin No. They have their experts. We cannot just pick and choose à la carte. There are structures within the country and clinical and public health advice and-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Taoiseach. I call Deputy Mairéad Farrell.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell Two weeks ago, along with 3,500 bereaved relatives of the conflict, I wrote a joint letter to the Taoiseach and to Boris Johnson. The British Government has repeatedly failed to deliver on our rights to truth, justice and accountability. We need a truth recovery process, a proper archiving of lived experiences and an examination of themes and patterns. I ask the Taoiseach to meet with Relatives for Justice and bereaved families and to commit to me here today and to the other 3,500 bereaved relatives that he will do all he can to ensure full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement without delay.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Maybe the Deputy's party could do something as well. Maybe it is time for Sinn Féin to help and assist in truth recovery in respect of the terrible atrocities-----

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Disgraceful.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell I am asking the Taoiseach as a bereaved relative.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty That is shocking.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Why is it shocking? Why is it shocking that the relatives of those who were murdered in Kingsmill should get transparency and some truth as to what happened?

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not interrupt. I listened and I wish to respond. It is a genuine response. The Deputy generically calls it "the conflict" as if the Provisional IRA and the Provisional movement had absolutely nothing to do with it. "People got killed by accident" seems to be the assertion in the lovely and articulate way in which this is put, but we know the reality-----

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell These are relatives.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I know that, and we will do what we can. As a Government we have played our part through the setting up of the Smithwick tribunal of inquiry and we will do more if necessary to bring truth through to what happened, but the Deputy's party must also do more.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly A Thaoisigh, más féidir leat, iarraim ort cloí leis an am. I call Deputy Ó Murchú.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú In fairness, in response to what Deputy Mairéad Farrell said, it is a straightforward request to ask the Taoiseach to meet Relatives for Justice. We do not need the side commentary in that regard.

I wish to revisit the Irish protocol. I want to know about the interactions the Taoiseach has had. I accept that the European Commission changed tack when he made contact with it, but has he talked to the Commission since to ensure there is no chance of Article 16 being invoked again? We have had terrible language recently, particularly from unionism and Brexiteers. What interactions has the Taoiseach had with the British Government from the point of view of ensuring, even though there are operational difficulties that need to be dealt with, that the Irish protocol will be protected? We need to ensure there is no return to any element of-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy. I call the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin My response is that I have no difficulty meeting any groups, and I have met them in the past, but I do get tired of those who do not come to the table and I believe genuinely that the Provisional movement has not come to the table on many atrocities that were committed in the past. That needs to happen too.

In response to the question about the protocol, yes, there has been subsequent engagement between us and the Commission on making sure this does not happen again and on whether sensible, common-sense modifications can be made to the protocol, which I think has been asked for on all sides. We support that sort of process to get meaningful, common-sense approaches to the operation of the protocol. It has been only about four or five weeks since it was introduced.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill I welcome that the just transition commissioner is engaging with peat harvesting contractors, but how are our horticulture industry and our nursery industry going to survive economically without their access to peat and compost? These are essential. Will we find ourselves importing this natural raw material we have in this country for these industries to be able to survive and prosper?


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