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Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 6
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] I personally think there is.

I was taken by the Tánaiste's comments on multiple programmes yesterday, where he said that we need a differentiated approach because the Isle of Man and Iceland do not have Covid. It was said to me a number of times yesterday that that was a ridiculous example. This is not about a differentiated approach. This is about maximising and ensuring that our people are protected. A differentiated approach may be laudable in different circumstances but we are in the heart of the pandemic and at a very critical juncture. This is not the time for a differentiated approach.

When people come into this country from countries with high Covid rates and are asked to quarantine legally for 14 days, why are they not PCR tested after quarantine, in the middle of it or when they arrive? I asked the Minister about this yesterday so I would appreciate if he could formulate a reply. It seemed from his reaction yesterday that he thought it was possibly worthy of consideration.

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly It is.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I thank him for verifying that. If the Oireachtas decides to go down the Government's route, which I oppose and I hope it does not do so, I urge the Government to implement that testing as part of it. That would give at least some form of confidence to people, even if it is a weakened confidence.

Human nature means that a significant percentage of people will not unilaterally and absolutely adhere to a self-imposed quarantine. We all saw that with the people coming back into the country at Christmas. There is no way they adhered to a quarantine, as it would not have been worth their while coming home if they did. Can we deal with that?

How are the measures being proposed going to be implemented? The general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Antoinette Cunningham, said she had absolutely no idea about gardaí policing mandatory quarantine, whether at home or in hotels, as is proposed in this legislation. How is that possible? I have spoken to many members of An Garda Síochána. Many Members here have friends in An Garda Síochána, such as people we went to school with or grew up with, neighbours or family members in some cases. I have not met one garda yet or heard one story of An Garda Síochána being asked to call to somebody's home to check if they were quarantining. Not one. Zero. None. If anybody in this House has heard of that happening, I ask them to tell us because it would be news to me and many others.

As for the infrastructure around this, what has been done in the time preceding the introduction of this legislation as regards hotels, transport and the health requirements of those who will be quarantining in hotels? Deputy Berry spoke about the use of the Army. How far down the line is the Government on all these issues, considering the amount of time that has passed and that nothing has been done?

There is one other glaring issue in what the Government is proposing versus what we in the Labour Party, together with some other Opposition parties and Independents, are proposing. The UK has a list of 33 countries for which people have to quarantine. Why is the Government only proposing 20? Why is there a differential between the two islands? The UK's list has 33 countries versus 20 in what the Government has proposed. It seems illogical to me, given that we have been talking about an all-island or two-island approach.

This amendment is a critical one for us. It is one of the most important votes we as a House are going to have during this pandemic. There are some members of Government who, dare I say it, reluctantly believe that the limited, half-baked mandatory hotel quarantine system it is putting forward will work, nine months after it was asked for in the public health advice. The Government says it always follows public health advice but it failed to do so in this case. There are also those of us who believe the Irish people deserve respect, to be given every chance and an opportunity to get out of being locked into operating within 5 km of their homes in the coming months. The Irish people deserve the best chance against the biggest threats and anybody would acknowledge that the biggest threat at this moment is the variants that are coming down the road. If the Minister goes down this route he will not be giving the Irish people the best chance. I do not want to be standing up here again in the future reminding him that he has failed the Irish people. There is an equation in the decision that has to be made today. Will the Government put the Irish people first or will it put a failed strategy first? Our proposal protects the Irish people as much as possible, whereas the Government's is a failed strategy. I will be asking everybody in this House to support the Labour Party amendment, on which we intend to call a vote later today.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I support the Labour Party amendment, as well as amendment No. 31, which is in the name of two Sinn Féin Deputies. A number of these amendments are grouped. We had lengthy discussions on Second Stage, in which we set out our overall view of the Bill and the Government's failure in this area. At the heart of that failure is the matter being addressed by the amendments tabled by various Opposition groupings. The reason there is unity among the Opposition on this is that it makes sense. It is simply common sense that we would put in place mandatory hotel quarantine for all non-essential travel, irrespective of where somebody is coming from. For the vast majority of people, that makes sense and opinion polls show it is supported by over 90% of the people in this State. It seems that everybody accepts this is a good idea, except for the Cabinet, the Government and the Minister for Health.

Nine months ago, NPHET argued with the Government and recommended that it remove all discretionary elements of the travel checks. The Government refused to listen to it. Members of the Opposition went on numerous television and radio programmes and argued with the Minister, his colleagues in government and backbench Deputies about the Government's disastrous policy on checks and controls at airports. Every time the proposal for quarantine was raised in this House by Opposition Deputies, it was knocked back by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Ministers for Transport and for Health or others. They said it was simply not necessary and not possible. Here we are, nine months later, and all of a sudden mandatory hotel quarantine is possible. However, it is only possible for people coming from some countries and not people coming from all countries. While one could argue that a half measure is better than no measure, in reality that is not the case because of the new variants and strains of this virus, which are highly contagious and dangerous.


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