Thursday, 19 March 2020
An Bille Sláinte (Caomhnú agus Cosaint agus Bearta Éigeandála Eile Ar Mhaithe Le Leas an Phobail), 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Simon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's clarification that the Government has no role in ruling amendments in or out of order. This is a dynamic and evolving situation that I have no doubt the House will be dealing with in many ways, in many fora including on the floor of the House, in the coming days and weeks. We will debate further legislation next week and there will be another opportunity to consider another ambit of measures. I will certainly reflect on the drafting issue that Deputy O'Callaghan raised when I appear before the Seanad tomorrow. I will seek further guidance on that and revert to the Deputy.
We have to remember what we are trying to do here. The purpose of the higher rate of payment for those who self isolate is to ensure that those who have been instructed to self isolate because they are at risk of spreading the virus find themselves in a position to do so. I understand that there are many other good calls that may be made on the Exchequer but the purpose of this higher rate payment was to stop the spread of infection. We arrived at this in consultation with many people in the House who highlighted that a higher rate would be needed in this regard. However, it is not the only payment or support available to people who will be impacted by Covid-19. Sadly, as we have already seen, many people will lose their jobs, as Deputy Brady has mentioned. The decisions we are making are having impacts immediately on people's lives and economic well being. There is the pandemic unemployment payment. In the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's regulatory ability, if we arrived at a point whereby a specific group of people in the population have to self-isolate for the public health good, these issues can be examined by regulations, so we will keep all of these under review.
On Deputy O'Dea's questions, the Department's intention is that the dependant ratio would remain at the standard rate. The proposal is to increase the basic payment to €305 but the dependent rate would remain at the standard rate and would not be specifically increased. I will reflect on the Deputy's point about the medical card. By virtue of the fact that most people, God willing the overwhelming majority of people who are diagnosed with this, will have a mild illness for a very short period of time, and we have already put in place a number of arrangements with GPs to ensure that telephone consultations and so on are covered I need to reflect further on how much of a legitimate issue that would be.
Deputy Naughten made an important point about people who could work remotely whose employers do not allow them to do so. That should not be acceptable to any of us. We need people to work remotely where they are. I will follow that up with our agencies.
We are looking at childcare for essential workers and will bring forward proposals in coming days. I have been informed by officials that if a part-time worker loses his or her job that the pandemic payment is applicable to that person.