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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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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] I do not agree with the notion of designated states which may pose a high risk to this State or where there has been sustained human transmission. One thing we know about this virus and its variants is that it is highly transmissible and highly dangerous. Surely the Minister would agree that anyone travelling from anywhere with any instances of Covid should have to quarantine. Indeed, in some of the countries requiring quarantine there is a very low incidence of Covid but for many countries with a very high incidence, we are not providing for quarantine at all.

  I also take umbrage with the wording in subsection (25) of Section 38B which states that a dependant person means "a person who is 18 years or over and is suffering from a mental or physical disability".  Does the Minister not listen to people with disabilities and advocacy groups? Has he not seen the Disability Is Not a Dirty Word campaign? Disabled people are reclaiming the term "disabled" and highlighting that it is society, policies and infrastructure which disable them and limit their abilities. Cultural change is needed and if the Government does not use inclusive and person-centred language then what hope is there for wider change?

  I would like to briefly mention that it is completely unacceptable that developed countries are swallowing up all available vaccines. In order for the vaccination programme to be successful, it must be rolled out worldwide. We have a moral responsibility to share vaccines with developing countries and I was glad to hear Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO outlining the importance of this.

  In essence, I am not sure I will be supporting this Bill because although it will implement some of the measures I have been calling for, it does not go far enough. We are a year into this pandemic and people need leadership.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I do not have a principled opposition to quarantine. I would be nervous about how it will be implemented, the effect it will have and whether quarantine centres themselves will become hot beds for transmission but I would not have a principled opposition to it if I thought it was the solution. I certainly do not believe that the quarantining that is being proposed in this Bill is the solution. If we could stop everybody coming into this State then we would stop coronavirus from coming into this State and more importantly, we would stop variants coming in but I am not convinced that we can do that.

I note the Sinn Féin amendments to the Bill which extend quarantining to everybody coming into the State but I am not entirely clear as to whether this includes those coming across our land border with Northern Ireland. There is no point in stopping people coming in at a port or an airport and not stopping people coming in across the land Border. I appreciate that Sinn Féin aims to abolish that land Border and see reunification of this State. I am asking whether it supports the quarantining of everybody, just until national reunification, because otherwise it is pointless.

A lot of what we have done to date has been based on a paucity of information. Whatever we introduce must be effective. To be effective, it must be necessary, proportionate and evidence-based but there has been very little evidence on anything with one notable exception that I wish to single out, namely the All Ireland Infectious Diseases Cohort Study in conjunction with the Irish Coronavirus Sequencing Consortium which clearly demonstrates that travel is an issue. I do not wish to misinterpret the findings of that study but it seems to me that while it is important to stop Covid-19 cases coming into the State, it is even more important to stop new variants coming in. The only way to do that is to test everyone coming into the State because at least then we would know what is coming in.

The Bill provides that we would quarantine people who have come directly from or have been in states like Brazil, Malawi, Mozambique or South Africa in the last two weeks but does not acknowledge the fact that somebody coming here from France may have been in contact with somebody who was in Brazil or somebody coming from Newry may have been in contact on a farm with somebody from Brazil. The idea that where somebody has been is indicative of whether he or she may have the virus is not credible. We must start with testing everybody. I have been calling for everybody to be tested since last May. We require people to be tested before coming in and that is fine. However, a negative PCR test does not mean that a person has not been infected after it would have become detectable by that test or that he or she is not bringing in a new strain or mutation which could affect immunity acquired through having contracted Covid-19 and recovered and, perhaps more importantly, immunity acquired through vaccination. So far most, if not all, of the vaccines being administered in Ireland seem to work on any of the strains identified to date. However, there is always the possibility of new strains and one of the vaccines in use is less effective on the South African and Brazilian strains in particular.

We need a science-based approach rather than a morality-based approach. I fear that there has been a lot of the latter and a tendency to want to purge ourselves of this virus. Unfortunately, this is not a morality tale but an exercise in science. I greatly welcome the scientific studies that have been done. They have been very clear that quarantining will work if properly implemented but it must apply to everybody coming into the State. I do not think it is feasible to quarantine everybody coming into the State. It is simply not possible because it would have to include everybody coming in at every entry point, including from Northern Ireland. Therefore, we must start with testing everybody coming into the State because that is feasible. At least then we would know what we are dealing with.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. First, I wish to say that it is regrettable and a sad thing to hear that the Minister for Health had to erect a security fence around his house.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice We stand in solidarity with the Minister. There is no place for that in Irish society. We can have our differences in here but respect must be shown to people's families and children-----

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara And to people themselves.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice -----and to people themselves.

We live in an Ireland where people are coming in and going out. I spoke last night to a young couple in Donegal. They are living in a caravan that is damp and are expecting a baby on 1 April next. They cannot get an electrician for two days to finish their house out in the countryside in order that they can live in it. We live in a country where a person who was roofing a house in Portumna was told by a member of An Garda Síochána to go. We live in a country where a group of workers from Northern Ireland can come down here every day, go into every shop in this country and work on a social housing scheme under contract to the Irish State but Paddy, in this country, is now considering going across to England to work because sites have been shut down. I spoke to small subcontractors last night who are on the verge of going bust because of the regulations here. I know of a 150-acre field in Dublin that one would need to send a drone across to see someone but the site has been shut down. What is the mentality? Have we become so cowardly that we cannot make a decision on what is right or wrong? Are doctors going to be allowed to say, "I do not know much about building but I am going to shut it down"? We need to wake up and cop on to the plight of our own people. Builders and construction workers are like birds; they go where the work is. They are leaving this country in droves because England is at full bore and there is no point in staying. We must also remember that there are companies in Ireland employing electricians who go off to work for three weeks and come home for one. Will they not be allowed to see their families?

I am not opposed to quarantine - let me be very clear on that - but what is the point of it if I can go to France, meet people there who jump on a plane and come to Ireland and then jump on a plane and go to England? If we are doing this, we need to do it right. It should be full duck or no dinner. We either do it right or forget about it all together. We have been talking about doing this for so long now. I listened to a programme this morning on quarantine and if we do not do it right within the hotels, we will have an even bigger problem. I heard Professor Luke O'Neill talking about the fact that when one opens the door of a room where a person is quarantining, the virus can come out at one. We are not set up for this. We need systems that pull the air away.

We are proposing a system whereby people coming from 20 listed countries must have everything in place in advance or they cannot come. It is almost like the requirements for animal exporters. However, if people are coming from somewhere else, they can shoot in, show their PCR test and away they go. We need one system or the other.

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