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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara] Bank of Ireland has announced it is going to close 83 branches. We know what those branches will be because three of them are in my own county. They are the branches that were closed and reopened in a limited capacity following the previous lockdown. The State still has a 14% shareholding in Bank of Ireland. We bailed out Bank of Ireland, and now it is bailing out on us. It will result in elderly people, in particular, receiving a reduced service and businesses receiving similar. At the same time that is happening, various Departments hold their accounts with Bank of Ireland. As I said, there is a 14% State shareholding in Bank of Ireland.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy, it is one issue and one question.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara But I think I can follow up on a previous question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Whatever the Deputy thinks, that is not the case.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Okay. I am sure the Tánaiste can respond if he wishes, given that his Department specifically deals with the banks daily. He is well acquainted with the issue of antigen testing should he choose to reply.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for his questions. I support the greater use of antigen testing in Ireland. I am on the record as having said that on a number of occasions. However, that has to be subject to public health advice and the approval of NPHET and HIQA, which also advises on this.

It is now being used in outbreaks and has been tested in some clinical scenarios, such as outbreaks in hospitals. It has, therefore, been used in recent weeks under direction of NPHET and the HSE. The problem is that it misses a large number of positive cases, particularly asymptomatic cases. Therefore, whereas a PCR test might miss 15% or 20% of positives, an antigen test will miss many more positives, especially asymptomatic cases. That could give a false reassurance. People can believe they have tested negative for Covid-19 and can behave in a certain way that actually causes the virus to spread. That is one of the big concerns about using antigen testing more so than we do now. It can create a false reassurance that people have tested negative when they actually have not. There is a very high risk that positives get missed on antigen testing.

For what it is worth, the first I heard about meat plants was from the media. It may well be that the meat plant owners have taken it upon themselves to do this. People around the country are carrying out antigen tests and even PCR tests without approval or guidance from the public authorities. There are private labs, for example, from which a person can get self-tests and so on. People can order others from the Internet. I do not know for sure but it may well be the case, and I suspect it probably is, that the meat plants took it upon themselves to use antigen testing and that was not done with the approval or authority of any public body. I could be wrong on that but I suspect that is the case.

To clarify once again, NPHET has endorsed the recommendations on the use of antigen testing. As I mentioned previously, the HSE is now putting in place deployment options for the use in acute hospital settings and as part of a response to outbreaks in community settings. The use will be in symptomatic vulnerable populations and their close contacts, supported by appropriate clinical governance and operational arrangements.

The Minister for Health has set up a group that is chaired by the chief scientific adviser, Professor Mark Ferguson, to examine the use of rapid tests in the community. Therefore, things are moving, albeit at a slow pace, in regard to greater use of antigen testing. It will now be used in symptomatic vulnerable populations and their close contacts. The group, under Professor Ferguson, will see if it can be used more widely in a community setting.

The Deputy also mentioned Bank of Ireland. It is the case that the Government holds a 15% shareholding in Bank of Ireland. However, 85% of it is owned by other investors. The decision to close any branches is obviously one for the bank. It is not a decision for Government nor one that requires Government approval. While nobody likes to see a bank branch being closed, we all need to acknowledge that the world has moved on in terms of banking. The number of people who set foot in a bank branch now is a fraction of what it was ten or 20 years ago. We need to think about how we can use these iconic buildings, which are often in villages and main streets, for a new purpose that will involve footfall.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara This false positive and reassurance is a bit like the argument against giving out condoms during the HIV pandemic, that people would feel reassured and behave on that basis. Frankly, I do not buy it. Every single person who is detected is somebody who would not otherwise be detected. It is not that we are taking people away from PCR testing to antigen testing; it is in addition to it. It is a screening process. Therefore, I simply do not accept that argument. I can see that Deputy Kelly, who I know has also been vocal on antigen testing, agrees with me on this particular point.

With regard to the banks, the shareholding is one thing but Departments have huge bank accounts. There was once a time when the Tánaiste said not another red cent. How about not lodging another red cent in bank accounts owned by Departments if this is what they are doing? There is a generation for whom this will not matter. Equally, there is a generation of people for whom it will matter hugely. Businesses across main streets in Miltown Malbay, Kilkee and Tulla will be adversely affected.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Just before the Tánaiste answers, Deputies may raise one issue. To be fair to you, Deputy, the Tánaiste did answer you, but it is setting a precedent for Leaders' Questions.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I was following up on the Tánaiste's response.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I understand that. There is no fault on you on this occasion. It is one issue.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Nobody likes to see a bank branch close in a town. We need to be honest and realistic, however. The world has moved on. The number of people who go into a bank branch now is a fraction of what it was ten or 20 years ago, and the number will keep falling. Most purchases in Ireland now are happening electronically. Even places where a person could not use a card before and where they only took cash, they sometimes now only take a card. Older people, by and large, have adopted and adapted to that change in technology, much more so than many people give them credit for. That is the truth of the way in which the world is moved on.

I represent a constituency with 120,000 or 130,000 people. There are two, perhaps three, banks in the entire constituency. It is not that people travel to other parts of Dublin or other parts of Meath or Louth to use those branches. People are managing money in a totally different way and-----

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Is there one within 5 km of everybody?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Certainly not, no.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Sorry, Tánaiste. The time is up now.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We need to be honest with people about that. One thing I saw last year and was really impressed with-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Tánaiste, we are over time.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Deputy should have a look at one of the old banks in Edgeworthstown and how that has been turned into an enterprise hub.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly For clarity, because it puts the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in a difficult position, it is one question, one issue. The Tánaiste has chosen to answer the second issue, so the antigen test question has not been answered, and we will just leave it like that. I am moving on now to Questions on Promised Legislation.

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I ask for the co-operation of Deputies because there is a long list, and we hope we will get through it. We will start with Sinn Féin. I call Deputy Doherty.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Yesterday, during Leaders' Questions, an Teachta McDonald raised with the Taoiseach the issue of family carers and the failure to set out a specific place for them in the Covid-19 vaccination programme given the vital front-line care they provide. We in this House know that family carers look after vulnerable loved ones with compassion and love. Their value is immeasurable.

In response to Deputy McDonald, the Taoiseach said that the Minister for Health had written to the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, regarding a re-examination of the sequencing of vaccination, and it was his understanding that NIAC would be responding to that query last night. Has it done so? Will family carers now be afforded clarity regarding their place on the Covid-19 vaccination programme?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I checked before I came into the House and, to the best of my knowledge, NIAC has not yet come back to us on that matter. It is under consideration, however. As we move down the list to more and more groups of people, we have asked NIAC to give consideration to groups that could be prioritised, not just family carers but also people under 70 who may have a medical condition, transplant patients, people who are immunosuppressed, cancer patients and people with cystic fibrosis. There are, therefore, a number of groups we have asked NIAC to give consideration to. As of this morning, it had not come back to us about it. Perhaps it came back to the Minister for Health and it did not get to me, but we will let people know as soon as we can.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I welcome from the Tánaiste's live-streamed parliamentary party meeting yesterday the fact he is taking on board what I brought up ten months ago regarding compensating front-line workers. I am glad he has agreed with that.

I want to raise a specific issue with the Tánaiste regarding mass vaccination clinics and who will do the work. Nurse on Call has put out the pay rates it has been offered to hire people in to do vaccinations in these clinics. Frankly speaking, looking at the rates, the take-home pay for many would be around the minimum wage. A number of people who are qualified to do this work, that is, retired nurses and other qualified people, have told me they are not now going to do the work in the vaccination centres.


Last Updated: 26/02/2021 14:31:50 First Page Previous Page Page of 71 Next Page Last Page