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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 Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly] Yet at Cabinet, when the work needs to be divvied up, their Ministers go missing and he is left holding the baby.

  The only thing that is going to get us out of this Covid crisis is the vaccine, yet the vaccination roll-out here has hardly been an unqualified success. According to some of the newspapers, in the North the jab has been given to over 25% of the population, while we are not even at 5% yet. Last year, there were some cutting words bordering on xenophobia from politicians and some in the media about the virus in the North. It seems the cat has got their tongue now.

  The decision was made by the Government to hand the procurement of the vaccine over to the EU and there has been much revisionism about this matter. We were told we were too small a country to do it on our own and yet Israel, which has only a few million more people than we have, has vaccinated 49% of its population. Was it too small to arrange the vaccine for itself? Furthermore, the fact remains that health is a member state competency and the EU has no experience in this area. It has no experience in delivering healthcare so we can hardly be surprised by the delays. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has admitted that the EU initially ordered too few vaccines but the question remains of what the role of our State was. What was the role of our EU Commissioner? What was the role of our European officials? This is being questioned across Europe, in Germany and in other places. If we do not assess the situation and learn from the mistakes that were made, the worry is that this will further hinder the vaccination roll-out. I will say this very clearly: we want the vaccination roll-out to be a success but it will not be if we do not learn the lessons we need to learn.

  I cannot speak here today without calling out what went on last week with the leaks and rumours coming from the Government about the restrictions, schools, reopening and quarantine. Some of those leaks were true but more of them were false. Did anyone in the Government stop for a second or pause to think about the impact that was going to have on people? People are hanging on their every word and yet they are glib and relaxed. They have a laissez-faire attitude to these leaks. People at home are watching every single word and it seems no consideration is given to that. The public are absolutely committed to defeating this virus. They have made huge sacrifices and have risen to the challenge at every stage in the battle against Covid-19. They have not flinched and they have been equal to the task but this has put a huge strain on their physical and mental health. Their commitment and well-being were disrespected by the actions of the Government last week with those leaks and rumours and the kite-flying. The constant leaking and a lack of clarity from the Government has put a huge strain on people's emotions. It has created significant stress for business owners and, indeed, for workers. I call on the Government to introduce an official protocol for relaying Covid-19 announcements, which specifically precludes unofficial leaks. It should set a time and date to come out and talk to people. It must stop leaking and making people unnecessarily worried.

Deputy Thomas Gould: Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould The Minister came in here yesterday and said that quarantine measures were being brought in to protect the vaccine programme in order that it is not undermined by new variants. What the Minister has failed to acknowledge is that a limited list of countries is not good enough. We need all people travelling from all countries to be quarantined on arrival. That is the only way we can provide protection from new variants getting into the country.

Ordinary people have done their best. People have stayed home and kept their businesses shut. They have been out of work. Parents have kept their children in and they have had no schools to go to. These people want the Government to provide safety and to keep the variants out. Last week, over 10,000 people flew into this country. The Taoiseach said that half the people who came into the country in January were coming back from holidays. We knew there was a Brazilian variant at the time. We knew there was a risk and yet this Government, and the Minister, let 1,500 people travel in from Brazil. What happened then? Three cases were confirmed coming through Dublin Airport and there could be more. People are angry at the Government's failure to solve this problem. People are angry at the Government for failing to prevent new variants coming into the country. A lady called Margaret from Dublin Hill in Cork rang me this week. She is a pensioner with underlying conditions who has been a prisoner in her own home - her words, not mine - for a year. She cannot understand why the Government has taken a year to bring in an action that is too little, too late. We need everyone to be quarantined on arrival.

We also need an all-Ireland solution. We need everyone to work together on the island of Ireland, irrespective of politics. This is about public health and safety. The Taoiseach needs to step up. He has damaged relationships with some of our partners in the North. We should be strengthening our ties because at the end of the day, we are all in it together on this island. Covid-19 does not recognise party politics, the Border or partition. If we are going to get ahead of this virus, we must not recognise them either and we must work together.

The Taoiseach stood in front of the country two days ago and said that he understands how hard this is but I do not think he does. People are hurting. They are angry, nervous and scared by all the mixed messages and the leaks from different people trying to beat each other out to the media. We want to support the Minister. We want to support the Government, because at the end of the day this is public health and we are all in it together, but not with the way the Government is behaving. This Bill does not go far enough to deliver what we need.

An hour ago, Munster Post Primary Schools GAA cancelled its 2020-21 season and it will not be the only school organisation to do so. All the different sporting, cultural and arts programmes are closed down at the moment. Children, people with disabilities and the elderly have been the most affected by Covid-19. There is so much more I could say but I will just give the Minister one statistic. Merchants Quay Ireland found in its research that four out of five people it interviewed had relapsed into addiction during the Covid-19 crisis. That says an enormous amount. We are bringing amendments forward and I hope the Minister will accept them because we need to get ahead of this.

Deputy Patricia Ryan: Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan This Bill is long overdue. It has been nine months since NPHET recommended putting restrictions in place to limit travel into this country, as my colleagues have stated. The Government sat on its hands and did nothing, allowing dangerous variants into the country. The Government must accept Sinn Féin’s amendment to introduce mandatory quarantining for all non-essential travel from all countries, not just an obscure list of mostly African countries. I would like to know what criteria were used to decide on that list. We owe it to everyone, especially our older people and those with underlying conditions who have stayed in their homes for almost a year now, to get this right.

There are many concerns about this legislation. The logic of the published list of countries is non-existent. We are proposing to quarantine travellers from African countries, many of which have had fewer than 10,000 cases of Covid-19 in total. Burundi has had a total of 2,041 cases and is 178th in the world for Covid cases. The Seychelles have had 2,514 cases and are 172nd in the world, while eSwatini has had 17,000 cases and is 124th in the world. It is a small country of just over a million people in southern Africa, beside Mozambique. I wonder how many people from eSwatini will not travel to Ireland because of mandatory quarantining. Ireland's total number of cases, at almost 217,000, is more than 20 times that of the average African country. Meanwhile, we are allowing travellers in from Britain, which has had almost 20 times more cases than Ireland, and the United States, which has had 133 times more. According to figures released by the Department of Health, around half of those arriving into the country by aeroplane at the end of last month were doing so for what were deemed to be non-essential reasons.

People are worried about these new variants, especially due to reports that they spread more quickly and may be resistant to vaccines.

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