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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 Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith]  A whole community was let down this morning when the vaccines were not delivered to Ballyfermot. We are not talking about Timbuktu; Ballyfermot is in Dublin 10 and it is easy to find. People were told they would be getting the vaccine and their appointments were scheduled. Instead, they are still in a situation where none of them can go more than 5 km beyond their home town and they must stick to the same rigid regime. Everybody is complying with the regime and everybody wants the over-85s in Ballyfermot to get their jabs because they are salt of the earth people who made the communities that we all love. Everybody is hopeful in that regard. Then the Minister comes in here and tells us he is going ahead with legislation that will see foreign travel into this country continue unabated and unchecked for at least another four weeks. Even after the regulations become applicable, or possibly applicable, they will cover only a tiny cohort of potential travellers into the country. The bulk of travel into Ireland is not coming from the suggested list; it is coming from all over Europe and the USA. It includes the American troops who have not quarantined and are coming through Shannon and travelling into Limerick.

There are many examples of where there is real danger of variants of the virus coming into the State. Meanwhile, people in this country struggle to put up with the restrictions, do their best for each other and maintain their sense of social solidarity. They need to see social solidarity from the Government. They need the Government to think about what it is actually doing rather than the optics of what it is doing. The Government is failing to help to crush the virus while everybody else is bending over backwards in their efforts to do so. The Minister has it within his power to accept the amendments that are before him today. I plead with him to do so and to give people a sense of hope and an idea that we can do this. If we do not limit non-essential travel into the country and enforce quarantines, then we are a leaky sieve and we are potentially wide open to variants, whether from California, Austria or God knows where else.

The measures the Minister is proposing to introduce will not do what they are meant to do. He is either not thinking things through or else he, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are only concerned with the optics. After failing for ten months to take note of what needs to be done and trying to do it, they are now pretending they are doing something. Never let it be said that the Government tried to introduce mandatory quarantine, because that is not the case. It is making a bags of things and leaving our communities very vulnerable and wide open. I would appreciate an explanation for what happened in my constituency this morning because it is probably not the only constituency in the country in which it is happening. We need to know how people who were desperate to be vaccinated and who have been let down are going to be treated while they wait for an appointment. I ask the Minister to accept these amendments because they will do the job, unlike the provisions he has devised.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl For the information of Members, I have selected the order of speakers on the basis of when they indicated. The next speaker is Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Can the Ceann Comhairle give us the list?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The list in front of me has the following speakers in the order they indicated: Deputies Mattie McGrath, Boyd Barrett, Ó Murchú, Duncan Smith, Paul Murphy, Shortall, Barry, Michael Collins and McNamara. Deputy O'Rourke is also indicating.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I understood that Deputies would be called in the order of the amendments they have submitted under this grouping.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That is one way of selecting the order of speakers.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Is that not the convention?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I am not aware of that convention but it may have been followed in the past. I have simply selected Members in the order in which they indicated. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I too rise to support the Labour Party amendment and the associated amendments in this grouping. We in the Rural Independent Group have tabled a number of amendments and I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill in our office for assisting us in producing them. They are quite detailed and also quite rushed because we did not have a lot of time. There is not enough time allocated to discuss this Bill. By the looks of things, we will not reach many of the amendments. We are only on an chéad cheann and if we are still discussing this group at 4.30 p.m., we will not even get a vote on it. We have to be cognisant of that.

Another speaker said that this legislation is a case of closing the door when the horse has bolted. As I said this morning, the horse is already in Cheltenham or a lot further away. Deputy Kelly and other party and group leaders will be aware that ever since the start of the pandemic, or at least when we used to have weekly or fortnightly briefings - we have not had such a briefing from the Taoiseach, NPHET or anybody else since last November although they talk about collaboration and keeping people informed - I always wanted quarantine at the airports and restrictions on travel. This is not because I am a killjoy who does not want people travelling and who wants to lock them up and throw away the keys. That is not at all what I want. The Irish people have made heroic efforts during this crisis. I sympathise, in particular, with anyone who has lost a loved one and could not have a proper funeral or attend the funeral. I salute everybody involved in trying to beat the virus.

I have said before that this is like drawing water and I remember as a buachaill óg drawing water from a well with a bucket. If there were holes in the bucket, one would never fill one's churn. It is as simple as that. We were shocked to hear the figures for the numbers of people coming into and out of the country. I did not in my wildest dreams think there were those kinds of numbers coming in but they are coming in and have been coming in. Of course, we wanted to be the poster boys of Europe. Every answer I got from the previous Taoiseach and the current Taoiseach was that we are European and we are in this together with Europe. However, Poland and Hungary sealed their borders, as did other places within Europe, with varying degrees of success. We could not do that because we are the good boys, the white-haired boys in Europe, and we wanted to be the best Europeans. We were best in the class at one stage, we were told, then we went to worst in the class and I do not know where we are now or whether we are in the class at all.

We certainly are not getting a fair crack of the whip when it comes to getting vaccines from Europe. When one looks across the pond at our nearest neighbours, it is staggering to see that they have administered 12.6 million vaccines, which they acquired from outside the EU. We are patting ourselves on the back that we have 350,000 or so people vaccinated. I am tired of asking the Minister about the flu vaccination programme that was rolled out late last summer, because he will not answer my question. I asked him in November, three weeks ago and again this morning to tell me whether I am being given misinformation in this regard from good sources. I do not believe I am misinformed that only 1.4 million of the 2 million vaccines can be accounted for. In that context, how will the HSE, the Department of Health or whoever else be able to roll out 10 million vaccines, which is the figure we were given this morning? There is not a hope in hell of it. They are like children playing with a jigsaw. If they could not make the jigsaw with 2 million pieces, how will they make it with 10 million pieces?

I know of some horrific cases where people were all buoyed up to get their vaccines but did not receive them. I was talking to one such man in Tipperary last Monday week who was due to get the vaccine on the Wednesday. I am talking about people who are aged over 85 and were due to get the vaccine in doctors' centres in Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and other places. Thanks be to God, one doctor's surgery in Cahir got the vaccines and all its patients got their vaccines. However, another doctor in the town got none of the 116 injections that were supposed to arrive. Logistics can go wrong with anyone but there has been no information given in the eight days since as to where the vaccines went, where they are now, why they did not arrive and when they will arrive. It is awful. A wonderful woman in her 101st year, who was a business person all her life and is still a sprightly woman, was one of the people going in for the vaccine who was turned away. Another very sick couple in that age group - I will not mention names - are absolutely desperate. These people had the anticipation, expectation and delight of going for the vaccine and then they did not get it. Now we cannot get information to tell them they will get it next Wednesday or whenever. What is the cause of the dysfunction in this process? The same thing happened at a doctor's practice in Carrick-on-Suir. Most doctors got their vaccines but one practice in south Tipperary and another in south Kilkenny did not get them. People were let down. Why is the process so dysfunctional?

As I said, I was not happy with the way the flu vaccine was administered. I am told it has been the case for years that accountability is negligible. How are people supposed to have the hope that we so badly need on this beautiful spring day that we look out and see around us? How will we get the people to follow us? Ní neart go le chéile is my belief i gconaí, but the Government has made a hames of things. I said again this morning that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have dropped the ball spectacularly since they took the baton. They were mad to get into government. At least there was a degree of co-ordination and some type of system in place under the previous Taoiseach and Minister for Health. We, as Opposition groups, were always kept informed. Now we are shut out. The Government knows best and we know nothing. The Taoiseach and the Minister do not want our advice.


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