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

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 6
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins] The limit of €5,000 equates to an annual turnover of €4.2 million or 58 bedrooms per hotel. Hotels need an extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to the end of 2021.

  I ask the Government to intervene with the banks for businesses that are in a serious crisis to ensure that concessions-based moratoriums are provided for tourism businesses and their teams until the restrictions are lifted. There should be a clear commitment to the retention of the 9% rate of VAT for the tourism sector, until at least 2025, to assist with recovery and to provide certainty for businesses in the sector. We need fast action. The Minister is at the Cabinet table and he must ensure that his colleagues are singing the same tune. There should be a refund of energy pass-through charges of 70% on State-controlled fixed-energy network charges for gas and electricity in line with the drop in energy consumption and hotel revenues due to Government restrictions. This must be backdated to the start of October 2020.

  The Government must fight for an extension of the local authority waiver on rates for tourism businesses until the end of 2021. It must ensure that clear progress markers are put in place to support the change in restrictions. Aside from hotels, so many businesses were left out of the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. The wedding industry, which I mentioned recently, is on its knees. Pubs are also on their knees. Restaurants have been closed for nearly 12 months since March 2020. Many of these services will never reopen and many of the people working in them will not have jobs to go back to. Last night I spoke to a woman who works in a retail business in a town in west Cork. She asked me if I think she will have a job to go back to when the level of restrictions eases. My answer to her was that I do not know.

  The most important issue we will have to face is people's psychological well-being. Some people who live alone have had their lives upended for the past 12 months. While they may put on a brave face, issues of isolation arise. Some have serious financial issues and that is not helped by the banks turning down loans to people because of the industry they work in. Unfortunately, this is an all-encompassing problem that goes well beyond the financial. The upheaval we have all faced has been tremendous. To be candid, it is not just hospitality, it is everyone in the service sector.

  We are talking about mandatory quarantine, but we must look at the rules and regulations and there must be a line of appeal. We must have an appeals mechanism in the laws we are implementing. There is a difference between what Ministers say and what happens on the ground. A few months ago I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in the Dáil if students could travel from their homes to their accommodation. To be honest, she was sarcastic and argumentative. She lacked any knowledge of the travel restrictions at the time. From what she told me, students could travel to their accommodation. She asked me not to be causing problems that are not there. When I passed on her so-called advice to a certain student in west Cork, the student then travelled to her accommodation. The bus was stopped en route by the Garda and they severely reprimanded the student and told her they had better not catch her on the bus again. The Minister of State obviously did not have her facts right. That is the type of confusion and lack of communication from the Government, which has gone on for too long and has led to people being scared and angry. People are able to fly into this country but at the same time people cannot travel beyond 5 km from their home due to the rule in that regard. There is a lack of clarity in the restrictions, largely due to the fact that the Government has no idea what it is like for regular people on the ground. A couple of weeks ago-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh): Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I will talk about the rest of the issue later.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am pleased to be able to speak on the Bill. It is something that should have been done back in April 2020. On behalf of the Rural Independents I attended the briefings with the then Taoiseach and Dr. Holohan and others. I sympathise with Dr. Holohan on his recent bereavement. Every time we met, I asked why we were not closing the borders. The response I got is that we could not because we are Europeans. When I pointed to what was happening in Poland and Hungary I was told to stop.

  We are punishing the ordinary people. Many of them are terrorised. RTÉ radio is terrorising them hourly not to mind daily. The former Teachta, George Lee, has found his true vocation in trying to scare the life out of people. It is not balanced, logical or fair. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, have been ham-fisted in the way they took over from the previous Minister, Deputy Harris, and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. They have dropped the ball spectacularly. That is more than evident from the Minister’s appearance on Claire Byrne Live on Monday night. Thankfully I did not see it, but I heard enough about it. It is shocking that a Minister for Health would be so ill-informed, out of his depth, inadequate and poor. That has been the raison d'être of the Government since it took over.

  The Minister closed St. Brigid’s Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir, which had been designated as a step-down facility in March or April. The hospital was closed in the middle of a pandemic. Who in their right mind would do that? The Government is throwing money at every kind of problem, but it has treated the people with disdain and contempt. People’s inalienable rights under the Constitution have been trampled on. The little green book has been shredded. This is more of it here today.

  I have very mixed ideas about this Bill because it has gaping holes in it. It will take another six weeks at best before it is implemented. We will be into the summer season and people will be coming in from all over. The country is porous. The Government blames the Border with Northern Ireland, but people have been flooding through the ports and airports. The Garda Síochána is confused. Spokespersons from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA, know nothing about it. As Deputy Michael Collins stated, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, gave information here that was totally erroneous and quite stupid and people are expected to deal with it. I do not know. We have tabled several amendments which will be moved later on Committee Stage. I am glad they were accepted but the question is whether they will be reached given that the Bill is being guillotined. We have such limited time to debate the drastic measures contained in the Bill. There are gaping flaws in the drafting of the legislation. I expect it will be challenged everywhere, including in the courts.

  Industry is being crippled. I came across a case recently in my constituency of a man who is very depressed by the situation. He is going for private mental health care and it will take him more than 12 months to get help. Does the Minister realise that? The man is paying for it. That is not to mention the people who are suffering in the public system. Cancer patients are of concern. We heard this morning on "Morning Ireland" that people who were due to be called for BreastCheck appointments this month will more than likely only be called in 2022. There is misdiagnosis and people are full of fear and anxiety.

  The Government's handling of the vaccination programme is a thundering disgrace. I put a question to the Minister last November and again three weeks ago, and I will put it to him for a third time. Deputy O'Dowd was lecturing us here about how well the Government is performing and how good it is. The vaccine has been rolled out to the equivalent population of one county. I put it to the Minister last November that 2 million flu vaccines had been bought but the Department could only account for 1.4 million. I asked the Minister to prove me wrong on that. How are we going to be fit to roll out the vaccination programme? The Minister said we have ordered 10 million vaccines. Did he go outside the EU? We are always being the good boys of Europe but we are only getting the crumbs. Did we try to source vaccines elsewhere? A doctor's practice in Cahir did not get the vaccines on Wednesday of last week. It was due to get 120 vaccines but they never arrived. Let us imagine how those people, some of them elderly, felt who were ready to come and had been telephoned. There is a 100-year old lady, bean i dTiobraid Árainn, a wonderful woman in her 101st year, and her son rang me the other day asking when she would get her vaccine. She was one of the patients of the doctor I mentioned. The same situation of vaccines not arriving occurred in a practice based in Carrick-on-Suir and south Kilkenny. Anyone can make a mistake, but people have no idea where the vaccines went or when they will get them.

  Carers and other people are in vulnerable situations. I spoke previously about one young lady, Valerie, in Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary who had a serious accident and has her own care team. She employs them privately. She wants the vaccine, but she cannot get it. She is afraid her carers will get Covid or she will get it, with lethal consequences. The bungling and misappropriation of vaccines was endemic in the HSE ever before the so-called pandemic.

  The Irish people are being punished for the abject failures of several Ministers for Health and the HSE. The Taoiseach set up the HSE some years ago, so he is hardly going to disband it even though former taoisigh, Ahern and Cowen, told me they were disbanding it because it was dysfunctional. It has gotten more dysfunctional. There is a lack of accountability. Millions and millions are being fired at problems now. Money is no problem for whatever work is being done. I know from contractors that it is a case of getting in, doing it and spending the money. There is no accountability whatsoever. The fact is that the Minister has had 12 months to put extra beds and facilities in place, but he never did one thing. There might be an extra five or six beds. There is no capacity. The sum of €1.4 million was spent on St. Michael's in Clonmel but the mental health institution has been closed up and a mental health patient will not be allowed in it even post pandemic.


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