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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 Darren O'Rourke: Information on Darren O'Rourke Zoom on Darren O'Rourke] It was a case of saying look at how we quickly we responded when the British variant was identified but that is an example of why we need mandatory hotel quarantine for all countries, not just a limited number. We heard the Taoiseach outlining the difficulty with implementing and enforcing mandatory quarantine at home. He asked how it could be done, how we could check whether people were in their bedrooms. It cannot be done and that is the case for mandatory hotel quarantine across the board. We need to recognise that we are in a particular set of circumstances. We are not back in May, in the summer or even before Christmas. There are variants in the community and there is vaccine in the community, and that is the perfect environment for the development of vaccine-resistant variants. We really need to do something about that and we are in a position to do so, but we are not taking that decision here.

The British variant is now rampant in Ireland, as we know, and there is now the Bristol variant. We know that the South African variant is on the island, although we do not know to what extent. It is completely false to suggest that we know we have quashed it. We do not know the extent of it and have not genome-sequenced enough people. Furthermore, we do not know who may or may not have it in the community because of the limitations of our testing regime. The South African variant is cropping up in parts of London,from where direct flights arrive here every day, and there is also the Californian variant, with flights arriving from the United States a number of times a week.

In that context, we know we have to go further than is being proposed, which is why the Opposition is speaking with such a united voice. If the Government's argument is turned on its head, to look at what is not being done, it follows the logic of what Deputies have been saying. The Bill is tokenism, a box-ticking exercise, and is not a real effort to deliver on a public health objective. That we do not have a timeline of when the measures will be introduced gives rise to further concern.

I highlight the opportunity we have now, as we had last summer. It was mentioned earlier that we essentially won the battle against Covid in this State last summer. We got down to single-digit figures. I recall those great days, reported on television and radio, when there were zero new cases. We have seen the publication from Professor Paddy Mallon and the genome-sequencing group that mapped the variants over time and throughout the country. The Teagasc website contains really interesting information in that regard. It emphasises the need to take measures to grasp this opportunity and to go further than is being proposed in the Bill.

I call on the Minister to change tack and to recognise the logic of the argument being made by the Opposition and the considerable public support and demand. The public see the absolute contradiction and it is an insult to them and their efforts, and to the sacrifices that families and businesses have been making. We have had the longest lockdown in Europe and people do not see a return for it. They see the absolute contradiction of people taking advantage of the lax regime that is in place. I call on the Minister to change tack, to recognise the opportunity and to take on board the proposals of the Opposition.

Deputy Johnny Mythen: Information on Johnny Mythen Zoom on Johnny Mythen I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the amendments. I will begin with an obvious observation. People have reached the pinnacle of their patience and are getting angry with the Government's messaging. When they witness people heading off on holiday, like the incident last week when a convoy of camper vans headed off from Rosslare Europort, while the majority of people are restricted from travelling more than 5 km from their front door, it is no wonder they are calling for mandatory hotel quarantine for all non-essential international travel, as the Sinn Féin amendment proposes.

People have given up their lifestyles and personal ways of existing to suppress this virus. In return, they expect the Government to do what is required at this time, namely, introduce full mandatory quarantine. We have compelled people to stay at home for months; likewise, the Government needs to put in place compelling measures to deal with people who are still travelling during a pandemic. Sinn Féin has put forward amendments that will require all non-essential arrivals to have a PCR test post arrival, improve data-sharing between North and South and ensure the Dáil has a say in the development of new regulations. I commend my colleagues on their work in strengthening the Bill.

We have witnessed many times the leaking of communications from Government sources to mainstream media, which is causing confusion, mental anguish and anger among workers and professionals. It should not and cannot be this way when it comes to the measures included in the Bill. I urge the Minister for Health to consider the prime example of New Zealand's mandatory quarantine website. It has crystal-clear, easily accessible information covering everything from what mandatory quarantine looks like to all the information partners needed to spread the message about the measures. It is not difficult to imagine the positive effect that this website has on anxieties, on reducing the number of mistakes and on increasing compliance through clear communication. It is worlds apart from the Travelling to Ireland page on the Irish Government's website. Communications require policy and investment. We are in agreement on the seriousness of mandatory quarantine measures and the management of the communication of such measures must be treated as such. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. If other countries are able to do this, so should we.

Like every Deputy in this House who has seen his or her constituents put so much effort into protecting their communities each day, surely this amendment, which seeks to shield and protect us from new variants arriving to our shores through international travel, must be supported.

Deputy John McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness I listened to a debate last week in which Deputy McNamara described what was going on in the House as a charade, while some of the speakers during today's debate have described it as theatre. I do not disagree with them, because what we have had in the course of the pandemic is theatre, with very little attention given to democracy and to the work we should do to scrutinise legislation. This legislation is now before the House and, again, those in the Government parties have had little or no time to scrutinise it. The Opposition, which has a role to play, has not been listened to either. Legislation that is arrived at in this way cannot be, at all times, good legislation because not all the brains are contained in government. The contributions of many Deputies should be listened to and the mistakes in the context of legislation should be corrected before it is finally adopted.

The kind of incomplete legislation that there has been over recent months, some parts of it flawed, has led to what has happened in the course of this pandemic, namely, mixed messages from the Government. Each party of the Government is trying to get its message out, based on what it believes to be the legislation and the facts that were passed within it. They are getting it wrong and the public is being given a wrong message. It is not being given a clear message that can be followed without being changed and without making the political system and leadership look utterly foolish, and this adds to that confusion.

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