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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath]  The Minister will go down in history. I will not even say it. It is the season of Lent and I will be charitable. The Minister is not at the races. Someone said that the horse has bolted. The horse is in Cheltenham, if not even farther away. Members of this House went to Cheltenham last year but one can be sure that no Deputies will go this year if the festival is held. There has been reckless behaviour while people are obeying the restrictions, doing everything right and still seeing the flouting of the laws, including what has happened in the mosques recently, which are freely open even though we could not get ashes in a church in Dublin last Wednesday. We saw what happened last Thursday in Rathkeale, where hundreds of people were involved. We are told that these are minorities that we must respect. They are flouting the law and telling the Irish people to lie down, and to hell with the daoine óga or the daoine beaga, and to let others do what they like in other areas.

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I will take up where Deputy Mattie McGrath left off because there was much parish pump politics there about the daoine óga. A total of 4,237 people have died over the past 12 months. This Sunday marks the anniversary of the first case of Covid. This time last year, I used to turn off my television and radio when I heard about the Covid pandemic because it was happening in a province in China. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it swept across Europe and the wider world and it reached our island. In the past year, 4,237 people have lost their lives as a result of this pandemic. I have not enjoyed anything that we have done here over the past 12 months in the context of decision-making, lockdowns and all the policies that have been rolled out by Government and those who support it. I have not enjoyed lockdown or any measure that has restricted civil liberties or resulted in an action that has inhibited how we live our normal lives. Much of what we have done has been necessary to save lives, however. We saw in Great Britain, just across the water from us, how there was a phase of denial for five or six weeks early on following onset of Covid and how this led to a dramatic upward trajectory in the number of deaths. More than 120,000 people have died in Britain.

I want to address some of the elements of the legislation we are debating. As matters stand, the quarantine will relate to people coming here from 20 countries but there is scope for the number to increase. The position will be closely monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It is important that we look at current and up-to-date data at all times when making decisions in this regard. We have heard from NPHET and the health experts, who have guided us through all phases of this, that we are not configured as a nation to have a zero Covid policy. We are ahead of many European countries in bringing forward this legislation.

There are things that I think we need to look as a matter of urgency in tandem with everything else that is before the House today. PCR testing will be a built-in feature of the system being rolled out under this legislation. The cost of a PCR test varies greatly across the European Union and the rest of Europe. In North Macedonia, the cost of a PCR test is €35 but it is between €120 and €150 in Ireland. It is the same test. It is the gold standard in determining if one has Covid or not, yet the cost varies significantly.

The backlog of mammograms and other health screening tests was addressed on "Morning Ireland" for a considerable time earlier. For every person detected with breast cancer, 90 or more have gone through the screening system in good health. Their health is not overly jeopardised, yet many are waiting to be screened to rule out having breast cancer. Every resource needs to be thrown behind that.

There is logic to the 5 km limit and I know that it is subject to review on 5 April, but many people tell me that it is mind-numbing. The reality is that there is so much shut down, including shops, retail, hospitality, etc., that there is little to do when one leaves one's home and drives across the country. It can be mind-numbing, especially in rural Ireland, to drive two or three crossroads away from one's home and have to turn around and go back again. That should remain subject to review but this legislation is important.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I am glad to have the opportunity to make a few points. We all support the legislation to introduce quarantines. I take the view that if we are doing it, we should do it for everybody. During the week, the Tánaiste said that if people are coming from the Isle of Man, there is no Covid there and we do not want to hold them up. The primary issue for me is trying to get back to some level of normality for people who are suffering. All of us, and particularly young people, have had enough of all the restrictions and the difficulty, worry and pain of Covid. Even though it is destroying our aviation industry and so on, if we are implementing a quarantine, we should do it for everybody.

I reiterate my view about whether we have pushed the boat out with our neighbours, particularly the UK. We appreciate that if it has a surplus at the end, it will give the vaccines to us. We have ordered 18 million doses. The issue is delivery dates and scheduling as opposed to supply. The Minister said that we have our orders in and I appreciate that. Is it not possible for those countries that are in a flusher situation to effectively lend us 2 million or 3 million doses which we can replenish in April or May when they come to us, so that we can ramp up here much quicker?

While the manufacturers were saying at the beginning, based on clinical trials, particularly the Pfizer trials, that there needed to be three or four weeks between the first and second injections, the UK, Israel and the United States went a different route, deciding on 12 weeks. Their data are based on many millions of people, much more than in a clinical trial, and they have adopted a 12-week approach. According to the Scottish data which were published the day before yesterday, 84% efficacy was proven. While I appreciate our Chief Medical Officer and deputy chief medical officer saying that we needed to stick to the rules and that we should stick to the three weeks for the maximum possible efficiency, other countries have taken a calculated risk and it has worked. If we did the same here, we could double or triple our rate of vaccinations and get to that level of protection, at 84% efficacy, that has been achieved in Scotland, the UK, the US, Israel and elsewhere. I appeal to the Minister to do that. The evidence is there now and it can lead to a much earlier timeframe for having all of our people vaccinated, which has to be the priority because it assists us in getting back to some level of normality.

Deputy Mark Ward: Information on Mark Ward Zoom on Mark Ward We have seen for a long time the mixed messages coming from and the kite-flying engaged in by the Government. This is not a game between the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to get the message out first and then to undermine each other. The people are worn out with conflicting information and off-the-cuff announcements. People's mental health has been affected. There is a large audience every time the Government announces new restrictions. This is not because people want to see "The Micheál and Leo Show", but because people have a real interest in the impact that these restrictions will have on their daily lives, whether it is when they will see their parents again, when they can go back to work, or where they will be in the vaccine roll-out. The questions are endless. It is time for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to put away their egos, to stop this one-upmanship and to put the people first.

For the sake of the mental wellness of the nation, the Government needed to set the record straight this week and end the spin, leaks and uncertainty. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The time for talk is over. Talk is cheap and real action is needed. The public does not want a pat on the back and platitudes, and to be told that people's mental health is being minded when the reality on the ground is different. People do not want to hear that we are all in the same boat when some are in yachts, some paddle their own canoe and some even prefer boats that leak. Many people I have spoken to feel that they have been thrown overboard by this Government and left to fend for themselves.

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