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Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] Of those 20 countries, only one is on the list, namely, the United Arab Emirates, UAE. Approximately 7% of all travellers are from the UAE. There is no information about the other 19 countries. What is the percentage of people who come here from the 20 countries the Government is designating? By all accounts, it seems to be a small percentage but we do not know because there seems to be no transparency. Will the Minister provide information on the number of people who are travelling here from those 20 countries? The data that he is providing at the moment are based on the last country of departure, not the original country of departure, and that is what we need.

I do not know if the Minister is listening or not but in the interests of transparency, it is important that he provides that information. Otherwise we will not know, even in the limited terms of those 20 countries, how many people are coming here or if the supposedly mandatory quarantine is having any impact on those numbers. The Minister needs to provide those figures, at a minimum, about the country of origin each week. When one looks at those figures, it is apparent that the larger numbers, relatively speaking, are coming from the United States and European countries. Nothing is being done about that. It is quite clear that the Minister is not serious.

I again stress that the difficulty we have with the high levels of the virus in this country is because of the level of importation. It started last March with people coming from Italy. The rugby was cancelled but large numbers of people travelled here. People from Beaumont Hospital contacted me prior to that weekend, pleading with me to get in touch with the Minister for Health because they knew that having large numbers of people coming in from the epicentre in Italy would be a disaster. I passed those concerns on to the then Minister but nothing was done about it. A major mistake was made when we allowed people to travel over to Cheltenham and back. We paid a significant price for that. The failure to deal with travel in the summer meant that we got the Spanish variant, which was responsible for what happened in the autumn. We know what happened at Christmas with Britain.

Now there are Brazilian and South African variants on this island. The next will undoubtedly be the Californian variant, and who knows what others. All of this was raised with the Minister and with his predecessor but action was not taken. Despite the fact that NPHET spelled out clearly what was required last May, we were consistently told by the Minister, Taoiseach and Tánaiste that the problem was not travel-related. We know that it absolutely was. The Minister quoted figures stating that travel-related cases were very low. That was only because we did not know where transmission was taking place. The latter was the result of the public health doctors being so under-resourced. In circumstances where public health doctors did have time to trace back by 14 days, as we should have been doing with all cases, they found that when one person came back into this country, to somewhere in the west of Ireland, that individual infected 56 people. A small number of cases explained how one or two people coming in can infect their whole community, family members and so on. This was blindingly obvious. It should have been dealt with. It is not being dealt with now and it will not be dealt with under this legislation.

The Minister is not serious about what he is doing and this Government is not serious. People can only come to the conclusion that if this goes on, we will continue to have to live in a zombie state, with no prospect of things opening up to a substantial extent in the foreseeable future. People cannot continue to live like that. There has to be a pathway out of where we are at the moment. The only way we will chart that pathway is if measures are put in place to drive down the daily figures, if we have proper testing and retrospective tracing and if we stop the importation of the virus. That is the only way that we can get through this. If we are serious about this, we could get through it in the matter of two to three months and then we could then open up domestically. That is the reward for having a real, meaningful strategy. Unfortunately, that is not there and the Government is not serious about it. If the Government fails again with regard to travel and we face into a fourth lockdown in the not-too-distant future, it will not be forgiven. There are alternatives which have been spelled out to the Minister. We can do things much better and have a better future. People will not forgive the Government unless it does the right thing.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry There are significant concerns among members of the public regarding international travel and new variants. People can see clearly that it does not make sense to make significant sacrifices in their lives to drive down the infection levels in the State while leaving the back door largely open.

A point was raised earlier and it has not been properly addressed. I refer to the fact that a debate about quarantine should not be a debate about non-essential travel. It should be a debate about essential travel. Non-essential travel to the State at this point should be banned. We can then have a debate about what quarantine regime we should have for essential travel. That is the first point I want to make. There could and should be a ban on non-essential travel to the State at this point. That point has been brought up but has not been addressed properly, if at all, in the discussion to date.

Regarding some of the specifics of the proposed legislation, the model that the Government is putting forward for a quarantine regime is a for-profit model. It is based on a private sector model. It is not just gardaí who would have the power under the proposals raised, hotel managers would have extraordinary powers. I will make some points about that in a moment. Perhaps that is why the legislation is silent about what facilities would be available in quarantine locations. There is no mention of access to IT or television facilities, let alone access to medical or legal facilities.

Serious concerns have been raised outside the Dáil by organisations that know what they are talking about regarding the civil liberty implications of the Government's proposals. Two such organisations are the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, an organisation which campaigns in respect of the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. Serious concerns have been raised about giving the power to detain people without trial for two weeks not just to the State but to hotel managers. There are also concerns about the power to prevent people from leaving, in certain circumstances, even when a medical emergency arises.

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