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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 Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry] The Government, without any oversight from the Oireachtas, will be allowed appoint as appeals officer someone who has not necessarily had training of any kind in human rights or in human rights legislation. There needs to be a debate about the kind of quarantine we are to have. The proposals for mandatory hotel quarantining the Government has put forward do not have my support but the basic point is that the debate should be on the issue of how to deal with essential visitors to the State. Non-essential visits and non-essential travel at this point should be banned. That is an ABC point that has not been addressed properly in this discussion.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins The general feedback today has been that people will be generally supportive of the Minister if he will accept some or all of these amendments. The Rural Independent Group has put forward amendments. I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill and Mairead McGrath in the office who put time and effort into these constructive amendments. I see that other parties and Independent groups have done the same in an effort to be constructive. It looks like the Minister is going to rule out all of those amendments. If that is the case, he will have to accept that he is going to lose the confidence of the people and of many Deputies here who are trying to support and strengthen this legislation, which is not strong enough as it stands.

I have very serious concerns. Many of my constituents have contacted me about serious mental health issues that have arisen because of the lockdown. They have had to abide by the rules, and have continued to do so, but then they watch television and see what is rolling in and out of this country through our airports. They ask me and other Deputies what is going on. They ask why they have to abide by the rules while there are no rules or order for those coming in and out from other countries. It is free range. That is very unfortunate.

Other Deputies have spoken about constituents ringing about the vaccination roll-out. There is a very mixed and muddled message going out. There is continuous spin from the Government, which is given a free run on the airways, with regard to how successful the vaccination programme is. I am delighted for those who want the vaccine and are getting it but the vaccine is not successfully being rolled out if home helps are continuously ringing me. They are dealing with people one-to-one in west Cork but cannot get vaccinated yet while we are hearing about the success of the roll-out.

There are elderly people on Cape Clear, Sherkin Island, Bere Island, Whiddy Island, Heir Island, Long Island and Dursey Island. They do not know if someone is to come to the islands to give them their vaccinations. They are asking me but I cannot say. They are being asked to come to the local clinic in Clonakilty or Bantry. Many of the GPs are administering the vaccine in their own clinics now, which is great, but some of these elderly people are unable to leave their island. They ask me if a helicopter can be used to bring a doctor to the island so that they need not worry that they will be left behind.

Again, people are angered and upset when they see what is happening at our airports and people coming here for non-essential travel while they are in quarantine. I have raised this issue. I am worn out from saying it. I first said it nearly 12 months ago. It has a serious effect on my own constituency that we are not dealing adequately and correctly with this issue. If we did, we could reopen our country, including west Cork. At this time, we are unfortunately nowhere near that point. We are facing another season of massive disruption to tourism because we, and the Government, are failing to carry out the simple close-down of our airports with exceptions only for workers who are strictly essential. That is the way forward but, unfortunately, it is not being done.

People involved in the construction industry are coming to me. There are many building projects out there. I really sympathise with those in construction. They are desperate to get back to work. Many of them have very essential work to do. Common sense should tell the Government that most of them could return to work because they work in a very safe environment but they are nonetheless being closed down. Individuals are contacting me who want to get homes built or sorted out or roofs repaired. They do not know whether they can do so.

The rules in place are varied from time to time. I know of one family in west Cork who went to buy a bit of farm equipment recently. That was meant to be essential travel as it was needed to continue their farm practices. They went from the Mizen Peninsula to a place near Bandon and were held up on the way back and given fines of €100 each. There was no appeals system in place for them. The gardaí in question got that 100% wrong. It was very unfair that these people were penalised to that extent because €300 is a lot to a farmer. They were able to identify where they had gone. Only two people went out to look at the machine in a shed. They made sure they had details of the person from whom they were buying. They had all of the proof for the gardaí to check but the rules are interpreted differently by the Garda, the Government and those who are rolling them out. This family on the Mizen Peninsula have been in contact with me and they are saying that every rule in the country is broken above in the airport but nobody gives a damn while everything is pushed to make sure that those in local communities are unable to break any rule. Even some who are not breaking rules are still being fined, which is terribly unfair. The Government needs to step up.

People contact me who want to attend church. They want to do things by the book and having been trying to. They find time for prayer. It is good for their mental health and that is what they want to do but sadly they are not allowed, although it seems to depend on what church one belongs to because most of us were sent a video on Facebook showing approximately 150 people praying somewhere in Dublin and there was no problem with that. The ordinary churchgoers I know of, however, are unable to attend their churches, which is a shocking indictment.

Young people are very stressed. In fairness, the Minister is human too and he understands that. Many young people are begging me to be allowed go here or there. I try to advise them not to. I, too, have children, who are now in their early 20s, and they have had their lives destroyed. They and other kids are always saying the same thing to me, that there is no law and order when it comes to the airport or people coming into this country while they have to keep to every rule and regulation applied. Many students have told me they are very stressed and that they found it difficult dealing with the exams this year. These are young people in third, fourth, fifth and sixth year. We should consider giving students the same choices next year that we are giving students this year because many of them have suffered severely. That would be a very fair way to deal with it. We are very much firefighting here. We are always doing something about something at the last minute when we should be looking ahead. We have failed to do that over recent months.

I am worn out from saying that those coming into the country should be given PCR tests. I was one of the first to suggest this because I come from the beautiful tourism area of west Cork. I wanted to be able to tell people that anyone coming to their area had been given PCR tests at the airports. I called for that very early. In that way we could at least say that these people had been tested and are entitled to travel. My request was denied and that denial came, and continues to come, at a very severe cost.

If we were identifying these things in April and May of last year, what is wrong with the Government that it cannot grasp the issue? It is letting things slip. These amendments are here to help and to ensure that these circumstances will not arise again. They are designed to tighten controls at our airports and ports with regard to people coming into the country, and who may be bringing in different variants, for a period of time. We should do it strong, fast and hard and then reopen our country. We should not wait another three, four or five weeks. This should have been done. We should be at the forefront but instead we are laggards. That is coming at a high cost to those people who have, unfortunately, contracted Covid-19 and to the hotel and tourism sectors, and it will come at a massive cost to the airports.

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