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Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] Denmark and Germany have done so. Why has Ireland not done so?

  Aontú does not have confidence in the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, or the work he is doing at this time. There needs to be a radical change in the approach to dealing with this issue to make sure the country is opened up and people's lives are protected.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd The first issue I wish to highlight is where Ireland stands internationally in terms of vaccine provision. The previous speaker should take the liberty of checking the facts before he makes claims which are not true. The fact is that Ireland is ahead of Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and France in terms of vaccinations per 100,000 population.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín Out of 200 countries.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I did not catch the Deputy's interjection, but I wish to make clear to him that Ireland is doing extremely well compared with other countries. Indeed, if he had been listening to the Minister for Health, he would know that we have ordered in the region of 10 million vaccines. The issue about vaccination is that we all went together as European citizens. The Deputy may be aware that there is a meeting today of all the European Union Heads of State and Government with the aim of rolling out the vaccines even more quickly than has been the case up to now. Significant progress has been made.

The sun is shining today and we are in a different phase of spring. Changes are coming in our society as a result of the sacrifices that people have made. Many have made significant sacrifices and thousands have died but the facts are that on this morning the R number is going down and the numbers of people in hospitals and ICUs are going down. We are vaccinating more than 100,000 people per week and that number will shortly be 250,000 per week. Children are returning to schools and preschools. Routine health checks are beginning to recommence. I welcome the progress that has been made with regard to Breastcheck.

There are serious issues, such as that of vaccination centres. It is not acceptable that towns such as Drogheda, which is the largest urban area in the country outside of the cities and has a population in excess of 40,000, will not have a vaccination centre. The Minister must address that issue now. He must bring the vaccinators to the people rather than the other way around. It does not make sense for everybody in the town of Drogheda to travel to Dundalk or Navan when the vaccinators could come to the town to deliver the vaccine in an appropriate and proper environment.

I refer to the two-island strategy. We should converge as much as possible with the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Administration in Northern Ireland because of the existence of the common travel area. We must ensure that people can meet their family members, whom they may not have seen for more than a year, and that we can have the same regulations east and west and North and South. That would make a significant difference for many families. I have not seen my grandchildren for more than a year. The same is true for thousands of people in this country and I want that to change.

On the issue of change, the Dáil should be sitting five days a week in this Chamber and, if needs be, in the Dáil Chamber or the Seanad Chamber in Leinster House to ensure there is due and proper analysis of all the movements and changes that are happening in the health services in order that we can have true and proper accountability.

Deputy Joe Flaherty: Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty In recent days, I have been dealing with numerous calls from elderly people in County Longford. They are frustrated and anxious and they are questioning and wondering about the validity of the vaccine roll-out. To put it in context, there are 2,000 people over the age of 85 in County Longford and a further 8,000 over the age of 65. All present accept that those age groups are the priority for vaccine roll-out. Approximately 1,500 of them have been dealt with through nursing homes.

I know of an 86-year-old woman who has put her life on hold for the past year. She and her general practitioner, GP, expected that she would get her first vaccine this Friday but last Monday she was told it would be another two weeks before the GP gets the supply of vaccine. That is no fault of the GP. I know that GPs across the county have pulled out all the stops, rescheduled staff and reorganised their surgeries with the stated aim of making this vaccine campaign work.

As I sat in the party room yesterday listening to An Taoiseach take Leaders' Questions, I got a call from a 76-year-old woman from Aghnacliff. Her only contact with the outside world for the past year has been when her two sons and her daughter call to her house and speak to her through the window. The one thing that has sustained her for the past two months has been the anticipation of getting the vaccine and a possible opportunity to visit her newborn granddaughter in London. She was angry. Through her tears, she told me that, for the first time in her life, she knows what it is like to be depressed.

There are shortcomings in the roll-out campaign but there are also many positives. However, the communication is failing us thus far. I hear the same glib advertising campaigns on the radio ten times a day and I see the same sterile and non-specific campaigns in print and online. What the 10,000 people over the age of 65 in County Longford want to know is when they will get their vaccines. To the credit of the local GPs, there is a massive plan under way in anticipation of the roll out. Several GPs in Longford will today commence the vaccination of over-80s. I am aware that more than 380 GPs will receive their supply this week and up to 500 practices will receive their supply next week. We are now committed to rolling out 1.2 million vaccines before the end of March and the target is 4.2 million vaccines by the end of June. These are big numbers but people are still sceptical. We need to start engaging with them and giving them real, specific and localised dates for when they will get their vaccines.

I acknowledge the difficulty of the Minister's job, but I believe he will lead us around the corner. However, he will only be able to do so if we get to grips with the vaccine campaign. To that end, we need to start engaging with older residents. They need to be reassured in good time that there is a plan and a date for their vaccination.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú As many Deputies have stated, there has been a significant difficulty with miscommunication. Even the Government has admitted that because it is beyond denial. The live-streaming of parliamentary party meetings is not a pretty sight. A person said to me earlier that parliamentary party meetings are like the making of sausages - far from pretty and nobody should know what happens inside them. It really is not helping people that they are getting multiple lines from multiple sources and they are not entirely sure which to believe. It is okay for those of us who listen to every detailed news bulletin and can see generally what is happening, but that is not the case for everybody. What is done is done, but we need the Government, the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to collectively get their act together and get the messaging sorted because one of the difficulties people have with regard to the vaccine roll-out is that they lack confidence in it. They will only have confidence when they are given a plan, see that plan enacted and have absolute clarity from on top. We need that to happen.

A significant number of people have made great sacrifices. Not everybody has done so, but a significant number of people have. Those people expect the Parliament, the Government and the State to do their part. The Government has taken its time getting to the point of agreeing to the quarantining of travellers from approximately 20 countries. I accept that there is latitude for more countries to be added to that list, but what we really need is for hotel quarantine to be introduced for everybody coming into the country. That would deal with any issues of indirect flights and from where a person came. All Members are aware of the issues with regard to the various strains of the virus. In this State, we must reduce the numbers. We need to ensure that we do not allow a greater level of transmission or the creation of new strains. We definitely do not need to import any new strains. This legislation will be reviewed and there is a three-month sunset clause, so we should ensure that hotel quarantine is brought in across the board.

This is about regaining the dressing room. The only way the Government will do so is by showing people that is has their backs. Sinn Féin accepts that this is not New Zealand and that there is a significant number of essential workers who are necessary for the supply chain, but we need to fireproof as much as we can. We have been hearing about progress with regard to the sharing of information relating to international travellers North and South for a long time. At this point, I want to see a solution and nothing else. I am not particularly worried about whether we get an all-Ireland response or a two-island response, but we need a better response. It is as simple as that. All Members welcome the fact that the number of vaccinations will increase and that there may be 1 million vaccinations per month in April, May and June.

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